New York City On Pace to Set a New Record for Rat Complaints

2015: the year of the Pizza Rat

New Yorkers are calling in more complaints about mice and rats than ever before, city data shows.

To date in 2015, the city has received 24,137 complaints over rat sightings, mouse sightings, and improperly disposed garbage likely to attract rodents, according to data from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

That’s thousands more than the number of complaints the city had received at this time last year — 20,367 — and more than the roughly 22,000 complaints the city received in 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

“I’m not surprised,” said Emily Mollinedo, a sophomore studying at New York University who had a run-in with a rat just the day before. Back home, in the suburbs of California, Mollinedo never saw rats on the street. But in New York City, she said, “you see so much trash and food everywhere, especially in the subway, that they just feed off of it.”

A rat scurries along the tracks of a New York City subway station. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

To be sure, rats have long been a regular sighting in urban settings. But the city’s rodent population attracted fresh infamy last month, when a 14-second video of a rat attempting to carry a slice of pizza down a subway station’s stairs surfaced on the internet.

Public officials have laid the blame on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, saying it has failed to keep the city’s subways — a common hangout for rodents — clear of garbage.

“Our auditors observed rats scurrying over the tracks and onto subway platforms, and it’s almost as if they were walking upright — waiting to take the train to their next meal,” City Comptroller Scott Stringer said earlier this year. “This is a daily, stomach-turning insult to millions of straphangers.”

The MTA has responded by trying to reduce the number of garbage cans in subway stations. Its rationale: with fewer places to dispose of their trash, commuters might be more likely to hold onto their garbage and dump it once they’ve left the subway station, rather than tossing it onto the tracks.

Yet officials remain skeptical the plan, now in its fourth year, is working.

“There’s no evidence it reduced the number of rats in subway stations,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement last month. “After four years, the best one can say about this experiment is that it’s inconclusive, except for the fact that riders have a harder time finding a trash can.”

And city-dwellers don’t expect the situation to improve anytime soon.

“They’re just there — in the subways, in dark corners,” Mollinedo said.

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