Wily subway rats are turning MetroCard machines into their personal playpens.
Rodents are scurrying into the machines, building paper nests and leaving behind droppings for sickened repairmen to gag over, workers and union leaders say.
“That’s pretty disturbing,” said Gina Bonilla, 28, a straphanger from Woodhaven. “What’s going on with this city?”
On top of that, the machines offer a discreet place for people to urinate, leaving a scent so repugnant repairmen often have to stand back when they open the boxes. Workers say the foul odor is worse in stations where booth workers were removed as there’s no one to catch them in the act, including several Bronx stops along the D line.
At times, repairmen have resorted to throwing kitty litter in the machines to tame the scent, but that creates its own mess, said Pete Foley, a union leader for machine maintainers.
“They should be cleaned more often,” said Foley, who has harped on the issue for years. “It’s unsanitary, which makes us worried about disease.”
Rats get into the machines through holes for electric conduits or in their hollow bottoms, where they can squeeze through gaps on uneven station floors. Rodents have been spotted several hundred times over the years in the boxes, Foley said, as they love to hunker down in the warmth created by the machinery. They’ve also been found inside turnstiles. Cockroaches also crawl out of the boxes on occasion, workers say.
The union considers the filth a safety hazard, as repairmen claim they have gotten sick by rubbing their eyes after touching inside the machines. Earlier this year, MTA officials discussed sealing the machine bottoms with steel wool, which rats can’t chew through, according to transit records. The work has yet to get underway.
Union leaders could not gauge how many machines are infested.
NYC Transit spokesman Charles Seaton said rodents set up shop in the machines on “rare occasions,” and have only damaged the equipment a couple of times over the past 10 years. Customers are not exposed to the filth and the rats have never chewed on MetroCards, he said. If rat remains are detected, a worker will use a special vacuum to clean it up and the holes will be sealed, Seaton said.
As for the urinating, transit washes the area and sprays the machine with an “odor neutralizer” when it happens on occasion, a spokeswoman said.
Katherine Lieb contributed to this story