(Photo by Tiffany L. Clark)

Riders may have to watch their backs a little more with fewer station agents roaming the subways — just ask Joseph Hatton.

Thugs threatened to toss the Bronx teen to the tracks Friday if he didn’t cough up his iPod at a station that once had a worker manning the entrance. 

“I was really scared,” Joseph, 15, said Sunday. “I really didn’t know what to do.”

On Friday morning, the high school student was en route to his grandmother’s house when a pack of men offered to sell him a  MetroCard swipe for $2 at the 170th Street station in the Bronx. When he refused,the ringleader demanded the lanky teen give up his money because he “had bills to pay and things to buy,” Joseph said.

Then the robber allegedly demanded Joseph hand over his new his iPod — or he would throw him on the tracks and beat him up.

“There was no one there to help my child, no one to scream on the speakers,” said the teen’s mother, Tawana Alston, 32.
 
Last year, the MTA removed the agent manning the station and now the kiosk is wrapped in chains. The MTA intends to lay off 600 station agents by May and close up to 70 booths, including in remote stations in the Bronx.

The nearest booth clerk is on the mezzanine of the cavernous station, and riders were jumping the gates of the unmanned entrance in droves Sunday.

“You call us the eyes and ears, but (the MTA) is making sure our system is deaf and blind,” said Maurice Jenkins, a union representative for stations.

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Joseph handed over his iPod and managed to escape unharmed. Police later arrested Justin Smith, 19, for the attempted mugging. He was charged with robbery, harassment and other offenses.

Subway crime has plummeted and all stations will continue to have at least one clerk on duty at all hours, NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said.

“We continue to work with the NYPD on … targeting high-incidence locations and placing cameras in key areas,” Fleuranges said.

An NYPD spokesman said that all crooks caught selling swipes are arrested.

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Robberies in the subways in January and February:
2010: 126
2009: 123
Up 2 percent

Total arrests in the subways in January and February:
2010: 8,094
2009: 7,598
Up 7 percent
Source: NYPD Transit Bureau