'Up' the 'down' stairway in New York subway

It was a little before 9 a.m. on a weekday morning, and New York University student Russel Harvey was bucking traffic as usual in the Grand Central subway station on his way to school.

In fact, he was in such a hurry that at first he didn't see the transit patrolman who eventually flagged him down and ticketed him for going the wrong way on a one-way stairway.

The formal charge: "obstruction of passenger traffic." His fine: a $10 ticket payable to Manhattan Criminal Court.

"You'd be surprised about all the complaints we get about people doing that" -- going the wrong way on stairways in rush hours, says transit police spokesman Ronald Rowland.

The wrong way on a one-way stairway? Yes, there are even signs -- if you cannot spot them -- to tell you to hug the left side of stairways in the Grand Central subway station in peak traffic hours. But Mr. Harvey apparently was hugging the right side, and he was caught in the act.

Most people are unaware that the city's transit police give out more than 100 ,000 summonses a year, and that many of these are for such minor offenses. Such offenses include playing the radio too loudly and putting your feet on seats, as well as going the wrong way on a one-way stairway.

One of the reasons that more of these letter "offenses" are not ticketed more often is that the law is almost impossible to enforce. With more than 3 million people riding the subways here, the crush of people makes it often impossible for police to see offenders, let alone ticket them.

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