Things are getting a little more literary on the New York City subway system — a distraction of sorts from an increase in crime.
As the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) moves to offer Wi-Fi connections at more stations — with full coverage expected by the end of the year — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday announced a new Subway Reads program that allows strap hangers to access classic and modern literature via transit Wi-Fi.
There are free shorts — everything from stories by Lee Child, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edgar Allan Poe to snippets of full books by Toni Morrison, Harlan Coben and Ron Chernow, as well as poetry from Walt Whitman and Billy Collins.
It's all available for download as the MTA seeks to be more responsive to customer needs.
“Reading has been a key part of the New York commute for as long as there has been a New York commute,”
NYC transit president Veronique Hakim said in a statement.
The announcement came just two days after Cuomo signed legislation imposing stiffer prison penalties for attacks on not only subway operators (there were 117 attacks last year alone) but also bus drivers
reflective of an uptick of violent crime in the city and a decision earlier this year not to crack down on petty subway crimes.
Riding the subway remains a necessity for most city dwellers and has also been made cool by celebrities and corporate types — even Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who could well afford a chauffeured SUV, likes to take the train. Actress Allison Williams of the HBO series
“Girls” posted on her Instagram feed last fall a photo of herself standing on a subway platform on Halloween, dressed as Belle from
“Beauty and the Beast”
— reading a hardcover book, no less.
But some who have lived in the city most of their lives wonder if a Wi-Fi books program will be embraced.
“Random crime is so bad on the trains — with gropers, slashers, cellphone users taking shots up skirts, the mentally ill pushing people on the track, and releasing bugs in the cars. Who the heck would immerse themselves in a book while riding?” said Upper East Side resident Jennifer Mendlowitz, herself an avid reader and also a personal technology consultant.
Her criticism is not overstated. In April, the MTA reported that major felonies had risen 14 percent from the previous year — from 499 in the same month in 2015 to 572 in 2016. According to the MTA, there has been a 14-percent increase in major felonies in the transit system — mostly assaults and robberies — from 499 at this time last year to 572 this year.
Sex crimes on the subway have also spiked, with reports of such incidents up by 53 percent over last year. The uptick, the city's transit chief said in June, was likely due to better reporting of sex crimes, abetted by a public awareness campaign and a new system that allows reports on the MTA's website, which is loaded with information to help riders navigate better and stay connected with issues, not only with crime but also construction and safety.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said he did not have time on Wednesday to respond to requests for comment from the American Media Institute.
As recently as last week, the subway drew headlines when actress Zaida Pugh, who said she was doing performance art to shine a light on the plight of the homeless, unleashed worms and crickets into a D Train car, creating panic. One rider pulled an emergency brake amid the fracas, which stalled the train on the Manhattan Bridge for a half hour.
Pugh, who also urinated and vomited as part of her performance, was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment.
Cuomo has acknowledged the need for better subway security and called the increase in sex crimes
He said he would send out the state police for transit coverage if necessary. “If the MTA tells me they need more police, we will get them more police,” Cuomo said at a news conference in June.
Meanwhile, riders looking for an easy commute can self-soothe by downloading some classic literature, as the city builds Wi-Fi that should connect across the boroughs and inside the city's 6,300 subway cars.
The over-under: those downloadable e-books are available for purchase, through a partnership with Penguin, and the city gets a cut of the revenue for each one sold.