Subways fares aren't the only thing soaring these days. The subway's rat pack is increasingly taking platforms by storm.
"People have seen them sitting on benches," said Andrew Albert, an MTA board member and chair of the NYC Transit Riders Council, of the underground rodent problem. "From what riders have told us, they appear to be getting bolder.
Joel Sklar, a vice president at Assured Environments, one of the city's oldest and largest pest control companies, said he believes the subway rats have gotten more brazen for many reasons, including increased interaction with people.
"Next thing you know the doors are going to open and one is going to come on the train with us," said Sklar, who commutes by subway to Lower Manhattan. "If it happened would it shock me? No."
Estimates of the city's total rat population can swing wildly from 2 million to 100 million, but what seems certain is that straphangers are seeing more platform rats.
"They chase me to work," said straphanger Yvonne Ouchikh, 40, who described seeing rats on the platforms at the 103rd Street B and C station time and again over the past month.
The increase in above and below ground construction, a spike in subway ridership that results in more litter, water leaks, and the rats' breeding cycle all contribute to the rise in sightings, transit officials and pest control experts said.
While NYC Transit officials would not comment on whether there has been an increase in the underground rat population, they said that technicians drop bait onto the tracks about once a month throughout the system. A transit spokesman also said that the agency budget for addressing the problem has remained steady in recent years, though he could not provide figures.
"They can get a handle on it but they need to address it because it's a health problem," Albert said.
Straphangers ticked off a number of stations where platform sightings of rodents have become commonplace. They include Chambers Street on the A, Spring Street on the C, West 4th Street, Jay Street-Borough Hall, and various 34th Street stops. Albert also said he spots them at Upper West Side stations, where they may have scurried to find refuge after their nests near above ground construction sites were disturbed.
While most subway riders were frustrated or squeamish over the rodents, Joyce Gonzalez of the Bronx found herself almost warming up to the critters. Gonzalez, 52, said she spent some time last week watching a mother rat tend to her young at Brooklyn's Hoyt Street 2/3 station.
"The mother was over by the garbage can," she said, pointing down the platform. "I think she was trying to get the babies some food. They were down on the tracks, three of them, little ones."
"We need that little pipe that you blow and take them all to the river," she said.