Photo of rat at 9th Ave. 36th St. subway station in Brooklyn, New York.
Rats are not the kind of rodent that usually inspires one to spring up and snap a photo. They’re neither chipper like squirrels, nor cuddly like hamsters. Yet a group of fed-up New York City subway workers are asking commuters to bring along their cameras and take part in their Rate My Rat photo contest.
How to play? New Yorkers are invited to log on to and post the photos and locations of rats they have seen scampering, scuttling, or chowing down on discarded foodstuff while riding the subway. Judges rate the rats for “nastiness” on a scale of one to five. A rat that scores a one is considered “handsome”, whereas a five is “beastly”. The rat with the highest “nasty” score is the winner.
Fun as it is, Rate My Rat is part of a more serious campaign to pressure New York’s public transportation system, theMetropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), to clean up the city’s subways. Launched by Transit Workers Union Local 100 (TWU Local 100) in September, the New Yorkers Deserve a Rat Free Subway campaign demands that the MTA remove trash from stations more frequently, patch up rat holes, provide more rat-proof rubbish bins on platforms, and conduct more frequent exterminations.
The MTA has reportedly defended its efforts to keep the city’s subways spic and span, saying it regularly removes rubbish from the platform and tracks, has installed rodent-resistant bins, and uses rat poison in non-public areas.
Nonetheless, Rate My Rat has become so popular that the site’s server crashed last weekend due to the influx of traffic it generated.
New Yorkers can post their “nasty” rat photos until Friday, January 20, when TWU Local 100 plans to announce a winner. The prize for having the foulest rat photo is a month-long MTA Metro Card, which, with a value of $104, is no laughing matter.
This rat was spotted at the West 4th St. station in Manhatten.
Somebody's thirsty! This rat was snapped at New York's Grand Central Station.
This rat was found in a Downtown subway station in New York.Photos courtesy of

“Subway workers have to wear heavy gloves, long sleeves and boots as a safety precaution, because encounters with rats are constant”

Jim Gannon is a spokesperson for TWU Local 100, and helped to come up with the ‘New Yorkers Deserve a Rat Free Subway’ campaign.
In 2010, the MTA had a budget crisis, which they dealt with by cutting back on cleaners and changing the subway’s refuse schedule. The cuts meant refuse began to pile up in stations, which contributed to a spike in the rat population. The rat problem garnered a lot of attention in September after a woman was bit on the foot as she sat waiting in a station.
So we decided to start a campaign called 'New Yorkers Deserve a Rat Free Subway'. We wrote a petition and started collecting signatures. We launched the campaign at the Jamaica Center subway station in Queens, which is notorious for its rat problem. The passengers constantly complain about the smell, which was in part due to a build-up of refuse because of the budget cuts, and the rats.
MTA employees are even more affected by the rat problem than passengers. The passengers are in and out of stations – they don’t spend their whole work day in the subway. The rats invade the crew rooms and locker rooms. Everyone wears heavy gloves, long sleeves, and boots as a safety precaution, because encounters with rats are constant. Rats can pose a serious health risk, too – they can carry diseases like rabies, and you have to seek medical treatment if you’ve been bitten. One day we were out with a cleaner who was picking up some refuse, and a rat just scurried up his arm. The guy didn’t even flinch! All he said was, ‘you get used to it’.
Video posted on YouTube by twulocalonehundred.
The MTA is an overwhelmingly big, monolithic structure that does exactly what it wants. Rate My Rat was a fun way to try to get them to address a problem, and it’s been working. Since we began, the MTA has added $1.2 million to the refuse budget and they’ve made serious efforts to clean up problem stations. With that said, we’ve got more than 400 stations in New York and so far they’ve only tackled four. We’ve made progress, but we still haven’t reached our goal”.