Get Your Track Fire Kindling Here!

Anyone who works in, or has had other reason to be in, Manhattan in recent years has seen piles of freshly published tabloid newspapers sitting in public places or being offered by hand to passers-by at transit hubs by loud hawkers. Many thousands of copies of the free papers are offered to New Yorkers each and every day. And many of those papers end up being either responsibly tossed into trash bins or irresponsibly thrown on the ground, inevitably blown away from their deposit points by the wind.

A sizeable portion of the approximately six million people who ride the New York City subway system every day carry copies of one or both of the free tabloids, and it is not uncommon for the papers to end up on the train tracks, a recipe, considering the flammability of newsprint, for track fires.

The MTA is overseen by a board, and board member Charles G. Moerdler recently decried the problems the freebies are causing, both in terms of litter and of track fires, which he said have been increasing in frequency — by 7.2 percent in the period from February 2015 to January 2016, compared with a year earlier.

For the past two years, the MTA has been testing a program in eight stations, where it got rid of unattended paper piles, as well as hawkers, and instead organized the papers in bins. (The MTA gets no money for allowing the papers in the system, but does receive advertising space in them.)

There is, however, no way to ensure that riders, when finished with their reading material, deposit it in a trash bin.

It was during a discussion about renewing the papers’ contracts with the MTA and after a safety report revealed the increase in track fires that Mr. Moerdler raised his concerns.

They are well founded. The eyesore of pages of newsprint left on benches and the floors of waiting areas is bad enough. The fact that the papers can actually pose a danger (or even just train delays and taxpayer money, to put out fires) ups the ante even more.