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‘Spaghetti Skirmish’ sparks debate about food on subway

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A dining dustup over a straphanger eating spaghetti on a subway train has brought discussion over whether consuming food on New York City mass transit should be outlawed.

“I think we all have a responsibility to try to treat our subway system and fellow riders with respect,” said Jay Walder, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “I think that extends to food as well. This is a system that carries 5 million people a day and I’m not sure a ban on food is really practical or enforceable.”

The flap is the result of a YouTube video posting showing a woman eating spaghetti from a Styrofoam container on a MTA subway car. Another straphanger across the aisle takes umbrage at the underground repast.

“What kind of animals eat on the train like that?” the person says to the pasta-eating woman.

Intemperate words are exchanged and the women go at one another. A fellow rider separates them with the admonition, “Chill out!”

Many viewers of the video have since debated the questions raised by  the “Spaghetti Skirmish.”

Doreen Frasca, an MTA board member and chairwoman of the New York City Transit Committee, first hailed the idea of making eating on public transit unlawful but said she was not planning to push the issue. MTA board member Andrew Albert pointed out that outlawing food in the transit system might damage the business of subway station newsstands, which pay rent to the MTA.

The newsstands not only sell periodicals but sodas, candy, sandwiches and other food. Much of the criticism of consuming food on subway trains involves leftovers and paper, which attract rats and start fires on underground tracks, causing delays in train service.

As it is, the MTA forbids smoking, littering, playing radios or boom boxes as well as moving between subway cars while a train is traveling between stations.

Eating on public transit is illegal in Atlanta’s Metropolitan Area Rapid Transit Authority, The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit and the Washington, D.C., Metro, among other cities.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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