As stations lose agents, riders fear for safety
Subway passengers enter the turnstiles as the 34th Street A,C,E subway station. Due to cuts. many MTA stations will eliminate the token booth attendants. (RJ Mickelson/amNY)
The eyes and ears of the subway system are vanishing — and soon.
By the end of April — earlier than previously thought — 450 station agents who help riders and keep watch in the system will lose their jobs because of a $750 million budget gap, agency officials said Wednesday.
“The safety of the system will absolutely deteriorate,” said John Samuelsen, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 100. “Of course we’re going to fight back.”
The agents have been dwindling since last year through attrition, with the shrinking numbers fueling turnstile jumping at remote parts of the system, transit advocates said. More crooks are also illegally swiping in straphangers for cash, said Paul Piazza, a union representative for stations.
“The MTA is promoting the illegal economy by doing this,” Piazza said.
The agency is cutting 15 percent of its station agents who provide information to riders and keep watch on the system. The workers can also immediately radio authorities when there’s an emergency.
After the layoffs, there will be 2,650 station agents, down from roughly 3,250 last year. “It’s very dangerous. They should have more help,” said Cassandra Williams, 22, a Crown Heights rider who has seen crooks flee her station before police arrive.
NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said there has been no increase in fare evasion since the station agents were reduced.
Arrests for turnstile jumping were up 17 percent last month in comparison to January 2009, according to transit figures. The transit bureau’s 2,550 officers have been patrolling unmanned entrances, but authorities must prioritize serious crime over fare evasion, chief James Hall said in December.
“(The station agents) need work and we, the customers, need security,” said Carlos Razzo, 39, a Hell’s Kitchen rider.
All 468 stations will continue to have one attendant at all hours, and the empty entrances have intercoms connecting to the staffed booth, Fleuranges said. Transit is evaluating whether to install cameras at the entrances, but will not add high turnstiles to deter fare evasion, he said.
“Crime in the subways is at the lowest rate in years,” MTA CEO Jay Walder said Wednesday. “We are providing a safe and secure system and will continue to do so.”
Rhea Mahbubani contributed to this story.
MTA hauls away out-of-use token booths
Some token booths are disappearing from the subways.
NYC Transit recently started tearing out station booths in subway entrances that are losing their station agents, with several already gone, transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said.
Earlier this month, a booth from the Utica Avenue station on the A line was abruptly removed, leaving a stained floor and little else.
“We do not want (the booths) to fall prey to vandalism,” Fleuranges said.
The booths, which have been fixtures of the system for decades, are being sold as scrap, transit said.
Total station agents: 3,100
Agents being laid off: 450
Station booths set for closure: 100
Savings in 2010: $13.2 million