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MTA Targets 'Man-Spreading' And Other Subway Faux Pas


The New York City subway system is a melting pot for philosophies of personal space. People have very different ideas of just how much they are entitled to. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs public transit in New York, is taking steps to clarify that issue starting in January. It's launching a public campaign targeting a couple of particularly bad behaviors. One - swinging backpacks - those should be removed before entering the train. Two - the phenomenon bloggers call man spreading, and the MTA calls - well, here's MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

KEVIN ORTIZ: To, you know, extend their legs more than they need to in a manner that would take up more than one seat.

MARTIN: Jake Dobkin is the publisher and cofounder of the news website Gothamist, where he also also writes a column "Ask A Native New Yorker." He joins us now. Hey, Jake.

JAKE DOBKIN: Hey, what's up?

MARTIN: Not a lot. So man spreading - we heard the MTA spokesman try to describe this. Why don't you give it a shot? What is this thing?

DOBKIN: Men spreading is this, like, weird thing that men do where they start to spread their legs, and they can sometimes take up two or even three - if they're an exceptionally good man spreader, they can take up three seats.

MARTIN: So in the universe of subway faux pas, where does this rank?

DOBKIN: I'd say this is the tip of a very disgusting iceberg of bad behavior. I actually have a whole list if you've got 45 minutes.

MARTIN: Maybe not 45, but what are a couple of examples of things that have really even shocked you?

DOBKIN: So why don't we start with the weird animals? Just in the last year I've gotten pictures of a dead shark riding the A train, a guy who had, like, a pet rat that kept crawling into his mouth. We've got transporting weird stuff. I've seen people transporting inflatable pool toys, some La-Z-Boy chairs, washing machine.

MARTIN: I mean, that makes sense to me. You have to get around the city. You know, you don't want spring for a cab.

DOBKIN: But do you have to bring your barbecue smoker, Christmas tree? You know, then you're sort of at, like, the man spreading level. You've got things like pole hugging, and sometimes people can do it with their butt where they kind of get their butt around the pole. It's really disturbing. But unfortunately, there are things that are worse.

MARTIN: OK. Just give me one example of something that's really bad.

DOBKIN: The thing that I think disgusting me the most was there was a couple and the woman was popping the pimples of her boyfriend right there on the train in front of people. I mean, what kind of society is this?

MARTIN: (Laughter) Do you have any tips for the MTA as they seek solutions to discourage bad behavior on public transit? Is there anything they can do?

DOBKIN: I think you really need to kind of threaten people with the risk of embarrassment - you know, showing up on the cover of the New York Post or on Gothamist. There needs to be a threat involved to stop stuff like this. And it must be stopped.

MARTIN: Name and shame, you say.

DOBKIN: Exactly.

MARTIN: Jake Dobkin - he writes the "Ask A Native New Yorker" column for Jake, thanks so much.

DOBKIN: Sure. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Happy subway riding. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.