Many of us subway riders have always assumed we had a deal with the system's rat population: WE stand on the platform and wait for trains. YOU scurry around in the track beds and scavenge for dinner. While we never especially enjoyed the sight of each other, things seemed to work out acceptably.
We had our turf, they had theirs, everyone thrived.
But now a new Straphangers Campaign quality-of-life survey questions this basic premise. Inspectors from the watchdog group spotted rats on an amazing 13 percent of the city's underground subway platforms.
The platforms are ours -- where we stare into space, check our phones, read our papers, munch our breakfast and (too often) let our crumbs and leftovers fall to the floor. They're not a place where we care to confront furry little critters that want to snatch our refuse.
Aggression must be met with aggression.
The MTA says it's already waging a long twilight war against rodents. Trash rooms in 257 stations are being hardened. And in the 210 remaining stations without trash rooms -- where refuse is stored in bins or just piled up in big green bags -- the MTA is trying to increase pickups.
The rolling stock is mobilized, the agency says. Two vacuum trains regularly ply the system to suck refuse from track beds, and eight trash trains and nine garbage trucks empty trash rooms and bins.
The MTA has tried traps and poisons. It is experimenting with rat sterilization and has removed trash cans from two stations in a pilot project to cut standing waste. So far, the agency has seen less waste in stations without baskets and not more, says the spokesman.
But is the MTA winning the fight?
It reports anecdotal progress.
The Straphangers report and our own eyeballs suggest otherwise. But of course, the MTA isn't the only culprit. When it comes to rat-friendly messiness, the enemy is us, too. We all have to do better.
Game on, rats.