Transport Workers Union Local 100 blasted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plans to shut down subway token booths for three 30-minute stretches each day while Station Agents are on their meal breaks, leaving stations without the "eyes and ears" to keep employees and customers safe at a time when both are more vulnerable due to the marked decline in ridership.
In written testimony submitted to the City Council's Transportation Committee, Local 100 President Tony Utano said the agency's push for the closure of hundreds of token booths came as subway workers, despite the pandemic, were increasingly attacked.
Assaults Rose 18%
"Outrageously, the assaults and abuse that have so long plagued transit workers have continued," he wrote. "Thousands of transit workers are assaulted, harassed or otherwise abused every year."
There were 45 felony and misdemeanor assaults of transit workers in the subway last year, up from 38 in 2019. Incidents involving harassment spiked from 726 in 2019 to 787.
"There wouldn't be a Station Agent in the booth to call the police or FDNY in an emergency; no Station Agent to buzz wheelchair-users or parents with strollers through service gates; no Station Agent to serve as the 'eyes and ears' of the system, complementing police efforts; and no Station Agent to provide directions or assistance with faulty turnstiles," Mr. Utano wrote as testimony for the Transportation Committee's Feb. 10 MTA oversight hearing.
Last month, Local 100 went to court to block the MTA's plan to shut down 470 token booths Jan. 31. The union successfully argued that the agency's actions violated the New York Public Authorities Law because the plan amounted to a "significant reduction in service and access, which would first require public hearings and MTA board approval."
'Clear Service Reduction'
"Based upon the testimony adduced at the hearing...the Court finds that the elimination of the duties of those transit workers who provided lunch relief for station agents will result in significant token booth closures within the City of New York," wrote Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry. "Such closures clearly constitute a reduction of services and a reduction of access to the system by the general public."
MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said in a statement, "We are simply not in the financial position to pay for coverage during these 30-minute breaks."
The debate over staffing came amid multiple media reports about recent slashing and shoving incidents in the subway.
On Feb. 3 a 22-year-old man was slashed across his face on the No. 6 train at the Grand Central station. That same day, a 61-year-old man was slashed in the face on a Manhattan-bound L train.
Three days later a 30-year-old man was slashed in the face during an altercation on the J train at the Kosciuzcko Street station in Brooklyn.
Then on Feb. 7, a 33-year-old man suffered lacerations to his hands after a verbal argument escalated when his assailant took out a knife at a subway station at Sutphin Boulevard and Archer Avenue.
D Train Slashing
"Later that same day, another man, who police said was 'highly intoxicated,' was slashed in the face amid a dispute on a D train at Manhattan's West Fourth Street station," reported WPIX. "The suspect fled and the 28-year-old victim was taken to a local hospital for treatment."
On Feb. 10, a 54-year-old woman was shoved onto the subway tracks at the 174th Street elevated station in The Bronx. She escaped serious injury when a bystander pulled her to safety.
At his Feb. 9 daily press briefing, Mayor de Blasio dismissed claims that the spate of high-profile attacks was indicative of a troubling trend.
"Look, there's no question, if you look at the efforts made over the last seven years, and you look at the subways now, compared to what they were like not that long ago in this city, they are much, much safer," he said. "We have work to do always, and that's why NYPD has added additional personnel to the subways, for sure."
The Police Benevolent Association, however, pointed out in a tweet that there are just 2,200 NYPD officers assigned to the subways, compared to the 4,000 in the old Transit Police Department prior to the 1995 merger.
Support for Union's Case
The TWU's argument to keep the token booths staffed got a boost at the Council hearing from Sarah Feinberg, the interim President of New York City Transit. She said that the city's 311 call system does not process calls made from the subways.
"Right now, if you are anywhere in the city and you dial 311 to report someone who may need mental-health assistance...a substance-abuse intervention, 311 answers the phone and asks where you are and you give them an address and they send help to you right away," Ms. Feinberg said. "If that call happens in the subway system and you are at the Bleecker St. Station and someone looks like they could use real assistance...311 asks you for an address and you say 'I can't—I am at the Bleecker St. Station'...the 311 operator says 'I can't help you. You are just going to have to call the police.' "
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