Transport Workers Union Local 100 is trying to head off the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plan to close token booths for 90 minutes while Station Agents take meal breaks, a money-saving item that seems to be a substitute for an earlier plan to close 470 booths citywide that got derailed in court last month.
Local 100 President Tony Utano, in written testimony submitted for a City Council hearing Feb. 10, made the case that bringing in workers to relieve Station Agents during their meals assured that there would be a continued presence in the booth, offering "eyes and ears" to report trouble or offer assistance as it was needed to riders and employees alike.
As examples of what would be lost during those three 30-minute periods, his written statement mentioned the buzzing of parents with strollers or wheelchair-users through the gates, calling for emergency help, or offering directions or assisting those who encounter faulty turnstiles that don't read their MetroCards.
The MTA's financial problems are well-known; it is no doubt looking to cut corners where it can while awaiting Federal assistance and/or a return of much of the ridership it has lost since the pandemic took hold. The question is whether taking away sources of information or assistance for customers could wind up costing more in lost ridership than it saves in salaries.
It's true that there are larger issues beyond the MTA's control. One is the continued problem with homelessness; another is a rise in crime that has occurred even with ridership dwindling. And the problem is that both those conditions, if not attended to, could lead to further losses of passengers if they find the trains uncomfortable or unsafe.
Mayor de Blasio, asked about subway crime Feb. 9, downplayed the possibility that recent violence on trains and in stations represented a slide back to the bad old days of the 1980s and 1990s. But while the number of crimes may not be back at those levels, so far this month there is a disturbing sense that serious crimes happen an average of once a day in the system.
Often, those crimes have involved people getting slashed, generally by strangers and in what appear not to be robbery attempts. This suggests too many people with mental issues, homeless or not, are riding the trains and ready to use blades if someone questions their behavior. There was also, mixed into the bloody assaults, a case in which a woman was shoved onto the tracks at the 174th Street station in The Bronx.
The Police Benevolent Association pointed out in a tweet that there are 2,200 city cops assigned to the subways, compared to the 4,000 deployed when there was a separate Transit Police Department prior to the merger that moved its officers and those in the Housing P.D. into the NYPD a quarter-century ago. Fewer cops means lesser coverage of the system, particularly at smaller stations.
Assigning more officers to subway duty is likely to have a greater impact on safety than a constant presence in token booths. But until that happens, the MTA should keep the booths staffed rather than gambling that it can save money by scrimping on service. 

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