May 16, 2022 - Economy

It's b-a-a-a-c-k: Graffiti on NYC subway cars

A tweet of a subway car covered in graffiti

Screenshot: @hyperallergic

There's been a big uptick in graffiti being painted on New York City subway cars — including from tourism vandals who deliberately travel to Gotham to put their marks on the city's trains.

Why it matters: The tags and artwork are reminiscent of the "bad old days" of the 1970s and '80s, when spray-painted subway cars were a symbol of crime and urban blight.

Driving the news: The Metropolitan Transit Authority, which runs NYC's subway system, has started publishing figures about the rising graffiti, saying, "We are hopeful that increased transparency about vandalism incidents in our system will keep everyone safer and more vigilant."

  • "Since the beginning of 2022, the agency has reported 209 incidents of graffiti on subways in the city, set to beat a total of 300 in 2021," per the art news website Hyperallergic.
  • "There were only 208 and 297 in 2020 and 2019, respectively. Current numbers are on track to reach 2018’s relative high of 443 incidents."
  • The MTA will spend more than $1 million on graffiti removal and prevention this year, up from $600,000 in 2018.

"Included in the rising number of hits are elaborate murals that cover the entire exteriors of trains," the New York Daily News reports, adding that, for potential vandals, the thrill of posting one's work to social media is heightening the appeal.

The intrigue: In April, Two French graffiti artists were struck and killed by subway trains while trying to ply their craft.

  • Gothamist, a news site dedicated to New York City, quoted their "boss," the artist Ceet Fouad, saying that the two men's dream was to paint a subway train. “It was like winning the World Cup, winning a trophy,” Fouad said.
  • The New York Police Department said that "individuals living overseas" are targeting the layup areas — where trains turn around. "As restrictions on international travel have lifted, we have seen an increase in layup graffiti incidents,” Lt. Jessica McRorie, an NYPD spokeswoman, told The City, a New York news site.

Flashback: "Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent targeting graffiti from 1972 until 1989, when the MTA took what it said was the last train covered by graffiti out of service to be scrubbed clean," The City said.

Of note: "The general public doesn’t see trains with graffiti, as they did in the 1970s and 1980s because the MTA has a policy of generally not allowing vandalized trains to go into service until they’ve been repaired," Gothamist said.

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