There are bedbugs on the New York subway

The N train: avoid. Image: public domain.

As we at CityMetric know all too well, bed bugs are not pleasant creatures. They bite, they itch, and they spread indiscriminately to clothes, luggage, and even books. Worst of all, once they get into your house, it’s remarkably difficult to get rid of them again.

Lately, they’ve strayed even further afield. On 31 August, the New York Daily News reported that, since the beginning of that month, there had been 21 sightings of the insects on New York’s subways. Joe Costales, chairman of the local Transport Workers Union, told the paper that there have been occasional sightings in transit workers’ lodgings before, but now “it’s throughout the system”.

These stats didn’t come from the Metropolitan Transit Authority itself: the News got them from unnamed “transit sources”. They’ve also responded somewhat tersely to the news. Spokesman Adam Lisberg said:

More than 5.8 million people ride 8,000 subway trains on an average weekday, but the MTA has found no bedbug infestations on any trains, and has found and treated bedbugs on only 16 trains.”

He did, however, add that a “specialist expert” has been called in to review the situation.

If you plan to take your chances and continue to ride the bug-infested trains, here’s a quick breakdown of where the bugs have been spotted on individual lines (three sightings were in MTA crew rooms, so we haven’t included them here):

Might be a good idea to avoid the N line for a while.


 

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.