Subway Officials Seek Ban on Picture-Taking
May 21, 2004
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN, NY TIMES
Citing the security of 7 million daily riders, 48,000
employees and its transportation network, New York City
Transit yesterday proposed a ban on unauthorized
photography, filming and videotaping on city subways, buses
and Staten Island Railway trains. The press and businesses
or individuals with permits would be exempt.
Transit officials also proposed a tougher rule against
turnstile jumping, banning it even if a miscreant has a
fare card and acts out of frustration when the card or a
turnstile malfunctions, and they suggested new rules
against walking between subway cars, putting feet on seats
and misusing student or senior reduced-fare cards.
If approved by New York City Transit's parent, the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority, next fall after a
public-comment period, the changes would become the
system's first new rules of conduct in a decade, joining
prohibitions against graffiti, littering, spitting,
smoking, panhandling, loud radio playing, drinking
alcoholic beverages and going onto subway tracks or into
tunnels or other unauthorized areas.
"The world we live in has changed dramatically since 1994,
so has our operating environment," said Lawrence G. Reuter,
president of New York City Transit. "These changes to our
rules of conduct are intended to enhance security and
safety, not only for our customers but our employees as
The proposed ban on photography, filming and videotaping
drew immediate objections from the New York Public Interest
Research Group Straphangers Campaign. "We think it's a
mistake to turn the subways into a scary underground where
you can't take pictures," said Gene Russianoff, a staff
lawyer. "We respect the need for security in the transit
system but believe that there are important values in
having photographers document life and conditions on the
subways and buses."
He noted that the M.T.A. was sponsoring an exhibition at
Grand Central Terminal of photos taken over decades of life
in the subways.
Mr. Russianoff said the proposed ban on picture-taking
could raise First Amendment issues as well. While members
of the press with identity cards issued by the police would
be exempt, other people and businesses would need written
permission. "No standards are detailed in the proposed
rules for issuing such authorizations," he said.
But Charles F. Seaton, a spokesman for New York City
Transit, brushed aside such objections. He said any person
or commercial enterprise with legitimate needs, including
film and television producers, advertisers, artists and
others, "would all be allowed" to take pictures as long as
they obtained written permission in advance.
While transit officers would make common-sense judgments
about issuing summonses to tourists who take pictures
without knowing the rules, even visitors would be subject
to fines, Mr. Seaton said, although there is no provision
for confiscation of cameras. He said taking a picture or
filming without authorization would be subject to a
relatively low $25 fine.
Spitting, smoking and littering carry a $50 fine, he said,
while vandalism and other more serious offenses are subject
to penalties of $100 or more.
The rules of conduct on the transit system are as old as
the subways, which mark their centennial this year.
Officials acknowledge that enforcement has always been
something of a problem, with a few thousand officers
responsible for 468 stations, 660 miles of track and a vast
network of bus routes. The use of cellphone and other
miniature cameras may also complicate enforcement of a
But Mr. Seaton noted that this would not be the first ban
on filming and picture-taking in the city subways. One was
imposed in the early 1930's, he said, for reasons that are
no longer clear, and was in force until 1994, when transit
officials decided to relax it after embarrassing news
reports that a woman had been given a summons for taking a
picture on a subway in the Bronx.
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the bombing that
killed hundreds on a commuter train in Madrid earlier this
year, tighter security has been a high priority, Mr. Seaton
said. The other proposed rule changes are also needed, he
After the proposed rules are published in the New York
State Register early next month, a 45-day period of public
comment would ensue. Modifications might then be offered.
Finally, New York City Transit would seek final approval by
the board of the M.T.A. The board does not meet in August,
but would probably consider the rules in September or
October. [as brought to my notice by B.B.]
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Well, the rules that are currently in place, the last time I asked which was a few years ago, was that you couldn't use flash in the subway, and you couldn't use a tripod. If you did want to use a tripod or flash you needed to get permission - which I did a couple of times.
I doubt very much whether such a proposed ban would stop a terrorist from photographing in the subway as it is fairly easy to do without anyone knowing with automated cameras. You really should ban cameras from hanging around people's necks, or shoulders or being visible at all.
At any rate, maybe we should just ban photography in the city altogether. I mean, with a telephoto lens, you could be blocks away from any major building and still be photographing it. And since suicide bombers may eventually even go after your local bodega -- it seems reasonable to just stop photography altogether, and possibly painting and sketching as well for as long as this hundred year war goes on. And another thing you might want to consider banning is writing in a public place, as it is quite possible that the terrorist is taking notes on where to place bombs, or how many people are there at a certain hour. So, yeah - if we are going to do it, let's do it right. No photography. No sketching. No writing. And what about banning cell phones since these are often used to detonate bombs? Since a cell phone can be used as a fuse, let's ban them as well. Oh, you worry that this would turn the city into some sort of Orwellian nightmare? Ah, not to worry - it is for our own safety.
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"the proposed MTA ban on photography in the subway is a moot issue. these rules are pointless. if a terrorist is going to case a subway line or platform, etc, they're not going to do it by taking pictures out in the open. if anything they'll do it right along with the subway photographers, undetected. it's not allowed on Madrid's Metro either (since way before the commuter train terror attacks) and those trains are even equipped with cameras in each car. a determined and resourceful picture taker can continue to take as many pictures as she likes. discreet is the name of the game, only now it's about applying the same discretion in front of authorities. police state or not, photography will never be intimidated by these kinds of regulations. if anything, there will be innovation!" R.