Former MTA Lit-Picker Says Cute Subway Cards are Screened for Scary Words


The “Train of Thought” aperçus and apothegms, which replaced the “Poetry in Motion” subway cards last year as the bored and bookless rider’s eye-contact-redirect of last resort, has gone over well with literary-minded locals and been covered by the New Yorker before. The magazine now tells us something we should have guessed about Train of Thought selections: they are screened for sensitive material. A former quote-gatherer claims his Columbia University committee ended their MTA service “in part because the professors pushed for material the M.T.A. deemed too sensitive,” and “remembers a famous line from Shakespeare being shot down because it contained the word ‘flood,’ which sets off alarm bells in the subway world”; an MTA spokesman denies the “flood” controversy, but allows that “fire” might be disallowed.

The MTA is known for screening ad content to prevent offense to customers, which has put them afoul of ciivil liberties folk in the past. In the broad scheme of things, maybe even Norm Siegal won’t kvetch if the Authority chooses to keep references to disaster out of the subway signage. After all, airplanes didn’t show Passenger 57 for their own riders’ amusement. Still, we wonder if a little frisson of terror might not aid antiterrorism efforts. If “If You See Something, Say Something” were changed to “How Not to Blow Up Under the East River,” for example, maybe citizens would become more alert.