Desperate to turn the tide in its war on rats, New York unveiled a new $32 million effort Wednesday to cull thousands of them with rodent-proof trash cans and tighter garbage rules.
Rodents are one of the least savoury aspects of life in America’s financial and cultural capital, a daily menace scurrying between subway tracks or darting around trash bags dumped on the street for collection.
English novelist Charles Dickens complained about rodents when he visited in 1842 and last year the health department received a record 31,362 rat complaints from irate New Yorkers ringing into a helpline.
The new measures will be rolled out in Chinatown, the East Village and the Lower East Side in downtown Manhattan, around Grand Concourse in the Bronx and in Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.
“It’s been a problem for way too long,” Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted Wednesday, unveiling what he called a “change of approach” after comparing extermination efforts over the years to “bailing out a leaky boat.”
The latest plan seeks to cull rats by 70 percent in target areas by depriving them of food and goes hand in glove with existing extermination programs.
Money will be spent on rat-resistant trash cans, replacing dirt basement floors with concrete in public housing, increasing trash collection and forcing larger buildings to put out garbage only shortly before trash collection.
Fines will also be increased for private businesses that dump garbage illegally, up from $1,500 to $5,000 and rising to $20,000 for multiple violations.
If successful, the $32 million initiative will be rolled out to other areas.
Legend has it that there as many rats as humans — 8.4 million — but Columbia University statistician Jonathan Auerbach in 2014 debunked the myth, estimating the number of rats at two million.
While officials say there is no scientifically accurate way to count the rat population, de Blasio promised “many thousands of rats” would be eradicated.
Until now New York’s main rodent weapon has been the so-called rat reservoir program, in which the city invested nearly $3 million in 2015 and which subjects concentrated areas to months of intense baiting.
In 2015, a New York rat shot to internet stardom when filmed walking down the stairs of a subway station with a slice of pizza in its mouth. The YouTube hit has been viewed nearly 10 million times.