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Amid rise in cell phone thefts, MTA launches service on platforms

Writer E. Benjamin Skinner speaks on his cell

Writer E. Benjamin Skinner speaks on his cell phone on the subway platform at 14th St. and 8th Ave. (Getty) Photo Credit: Writer E. Benjamin Skinner speaks on his cell phone on the platform at 14th St. and 8th Ave. (Getty)

Just a day after the NYPD warned MTA officials about a spike in cell phone thefts, the transit agency launched underground mobile service at six stations.

Starting Tuesday, AT&T and T-Mobile customers have phone and internet reception along the 14th Street corridor — at the A, C, E, F, L, M and No. 1, 2 and 3 platforms — and the C and E train station at 23rd Street. Thirty more stations on the west side — including Times Square, Herald Square and Columbus Circle — will be wired for service by next year. The remaining 241 underground stations will have reception in subway stations and on platforms, but not in tunnels, by 2016.

During an MTA subway committee meeting Monday, Assistant NYPD Chief Owen Monaghan said he was concerned over the rising number of electronic devices being swiped from straphangers.

"The iPhone 4 gained steady popularity amongst our passengers, and at the same time it gained steady popularity amongst our thieves as an easy mark to sell in secondary markets,” Monaghan said, adding that e-readers like the Kindle were also being snatched at an alarming rate.

But MTA officials said yesterday they had no worries about an increase in thefts now that riders can use their phones while waiting for a train.

“People just have to be vigilant and realize that there are times when you probably don’t want to pull your expensive cell phone or your iPad out,” said Carmen Bianco, the MTA’s senior vice president for subways, acknowledging that subway announcements caution riders against using electronic devices on trains.

“This is an enhancement for our customers and it’s really continuing to bring the technology that we want for all of our customers here in New York City,” Bianco added.

Riders said the added cell phone reception is, ultimately, a good thing.

“It will get noisy, but it’s worth it because if anything is happening, you can call the police,” said Patsy Joseph, 38, of Fort Greene, as she read her Kindle at the 14th St. A, C, E station.

“The payphones don’t work, cell phones are the best thing,” said Dawn Meyer, 46, a caregiver from Chelsea, as she waited at 14th St. for an uptown E train. And of the expected increase in straphanger phone conversations, Meyer said it comes with the territory. “If you don’t like loudness, you shouldn’t live in New York.”

The cell service is being provided by Transit Wireless, which will pay the MTA $3.3 million each year and split profits from mobile phone providers. They said they are in talks to add Verizon, Sprint and MetroPCS service soon, though the companies wouldn’t comment on the negotiations Tuesday.

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