“We are trying to abide by the rules, but they’re making it more difficult to abide by them,” said Brandon Thompson, 26, who at 6 feet and 260 pounds has a hard time complying with the rule against taking up more than one seat. On a recent journey on a No. 3 train, he squeezed as small as possible to fit weary travelers beside him.
Even so, a few months ago, when his new MetroCard stopped working at the turnstile at the 174th Street station in the Bronx, he said he became overcome with mounting frustration at repeated delays that made it a challenge to get to classes on time at Borough of Manhattan Community College. “I just hopped it,” he said sheepishly.
He is not alone, he said. Often, every MetroCard dispenser is out of order at his stop. Mr. Thompson said he had witnessed people hold open exit doors to let fellow passengers pour in without paying.
“People are going to act on their emotions, because they want things to change.” Mr. Thompson said. “I guess that’s their way of venting out and showing how they feel about the system.”
While parking an overstuffed backpack on a seat or walking a dog onto a subway car — also forbidden unless it’s a service animal — may seem relatively benign, it sets off alarms among those who subscribe to the broken-windows theory: the idea that small infractions convey a sense of unruliness that leads to more serious problems.
“Enforcement of transit violations continues to be an important part of our work to further reduce crime within our subways,” Sgt. Jessica McRorie, a police spokeswoman said in an email. “We make every effort to keep trains running not only safely, but also swiftly.” The police made 2,420 arrests on the subway in 2016. This year, through May 24, there had been 936 arrests.
For its part, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that runs the subway, says it understands the frustration of riders, but civility still matters.
“We’re working every day to improve train performance and increase capacity, buta crowded subway car or platform is no excuse to act outa crowded subway car or platform is no excuse to act out,” Beth DeFalco, a spokeswoman for the authority, said in an email. “Courtesy counts.”
Last year, the police issued 77,685 non-criminal summonses on the subway for rule breaking, all but about 10,000 of them for fare evasion. They are adjudicated by the Transit Adjudication Bureau, which is responsible for policing subway conduct. Of those, 3,000 were for walking between cars on a moving train. There were just over 4,000 criminal summonses issued last year.
Despite today’s tense climate, there were far more summonses issued for bad behavior in 2007, when over 137,000 non-criminal summonses were issued along with about 7,000 for criminal activity.
Of course, boorish behavior on the subway is unavoidable — New Yorkers can be brash, especially if they are trying to get somewhere. “People aren’t that civil right now, but six months or a year ago they didn’t give you their seat either,” said Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy group. “They don’t smile, they glare, they take up two seats — sometimes it’s hard to defend my fellow subway riders.”
Subway rules have evolved over time. Mr. Russianoff recalled pushing a stroller in front of City Hall in the early 1990s to successfully protest a proposed ban on baby carriages on the subway. In April 1989, musicians and performers flooded a public hearing before a vote they feared would completely restrict performance on the subway, according to news accounts.
Performing is permitted in the subway system, but not inside train cars. Last year, there were just over 200 arrests for unauthorized performances on the subway, the police said. That didn’t stop Benjamin DeJesus, 50, from lugging his Mexican harp onto an A train on a recent weekday and breaking into a lilting folk song.
Though he said he understood the challenges of an aging subway, Mr. DeJesus said it seemed a bit unfair to hold passengers to a high standard when the subway’s own standards seemed to be slipping. “The rules must be in accordance with the service,” he said. “There must be a balance.”
Inside the same car, O’Shea Galan and his bike sprawled across three seats. “I don’t condone it.” Mr. Galan, 31, said of his own rule-breaking behavior. Mr. Galan, who works in sales and lives in Chelsea, said he became so fed up with delays that he bought the bike to avoid the subway as much as he could.
The problem of rule insouciance is not new. Three years ago, the transportation authority started a campaign to encourage people to behave, complete with stick figures depicting things like manspreading and wrapping their arms around train poles, preventing other riders from holding on. More recently, the agency has started offering “Baby on board’’ buttons to expectant mothers in the hope of making it easier for them to get a seat.
For those who think the situation is bad now, Peter Derrick,and retired New York University professor and transit historian , asks that they cast their thoughts back to the late 1960s. That was before the system was air-conditioned, he said, and yet, even in sticky, slow cars, people mostly behaved.
“People should thank God they have the subway system,” Mr. Derrick said, and act with due respect. “Think of New York City without it.”
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