On Monday, a train conductor suffered multiple bed bug bites while operating an “N” train, but the public only became aware through the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), which later advised of his medical treatment (the train was eventually fumigated). There was no official word from the MTA, which does not have a formal policy for informing the public about these incidents.
For a number of officials and concerned residents, this is unacceptable.
“The cases revealed to the public so far have been very distributing,” said Council Member Mark Treyger, who represents high-ridership neighborhoods like Coney Island, Sea Gate, Gravesend and Bensonhurst. “There’s a health issue, but the economic factor can also not be ignored. If someone brings this home from the train, the cost to remedy it can be in the thousand dollar range. We’ve heard horror stories.”
For this reason, Council Member Treyger, along with Assembly Member Bill Colton, Democratic District Leader-Elect Nancy Tong and a host of concerned residents held a press conference at the Kings Highway “N” station Thursday morning to propose legislation that would require the MTA to take the same steps to inform its customers about bed bug infestations as it does for other emergencies or service delays, including through social media outreach. The package of legislation (bills are being presented on both the city and state level) are calling on the MTA to inform the public within 24 hours of any cases of bedbugs on city buses or subway trains.
“Let’s be clear: it’s working class families who ride,” said Assembly Member Colton. “They can’t afford to replace all of their furniture and clothing if this happens to them. It’s not simply a matter of paying $40-$50 for an exterminator. You have to replace mattresses and relocate your children. Meanwhile, the MTA has the means to get the word out.”
Colton also mentioned that, in addition to direct economic damages, a lack of communication from the MTA could cause a fear of riding altogether, which would quickly cripple New York’s economic engine.
“It’s not good for the economy and not good for the public,” Colton said.
In addition to timely notifications, under the proposed legislation, the MTA would have to detail the steps it is taking to remedy situations as they arise and protect the public’s health while using public transportation.
In the past few months, several subways have been taken out of commission for fumigation, giving rise to heightened fears of widespread infestations. After a spike of incidents in 2010, the city appeared to have reached a lull until recent months, where a number of incidents involving bedbugs were reported on several trains along the N line, in addition to trains on the Q, 6, and 7 lines.
“If we can let the public know what the situation is, then at least they have a choice,” said Democratic District Leader-Elect Nancy Tong. Tong, who will be the first Asian-American politician to ever be elected in Brooklyn, mentioned how she personally knew someone who was a victim of bed bug infestation. “She had to clear everything out of her house,” Tong said.
Joe Amatore, a resident from Gravesend, agreed that the public had a right to be informed.
“It’s a good idea to at least be made aware of what’s going on,” Amatore said. “I’m from Italy, where the trains are much cleaner, much more well-maintained.”
In concluding remarks, Treyger mentioned that with the school year right around the corner, there was an increased chance of a infestations being spread, that the MTA was “notorious for trying to minimize these kinds of things,” and that a failure to timely notify residents could even open them up to civil liability.
The proposal has support from the TWU, whose members have been impacted by the outbreaks. As for the MTA, a spokesperson, Adam Lisberg, previously explained how his agency has “aggressively responded to every report of bedbugs, fumigating every affected train.” But Lisberg has also remakred that “this is an interesting story but not a big problem,” which has caused officials to worry that the authority does not appreciate the ramifications to affected residents, or their wish to be informed of mass transit conditions.