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Homeland security top brass question station agent layoffs

The MTA’s decision to dismiss hundreds of station agents will leave the subways more vulnerable to terrorism, three prominent members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security warned the agency Thursday in a letter obtained by amNewYork.

“Reducing front-line personnel should be a last resort budget saving measure,” according to the letter sent to MTA CEO Jay Walder on Thursday. “We strongly urge you to re-evaluate.”

The cash-strapped agency will lay off 600 station agents on May 7 to save $21 million a year. That number, more than the previously announced 450, is higher because 150 agents will be able to reapply for positions as stations cleaners, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

The red-vested workers provide information and help customers navigate the system, but transit advocates also contend that they deter crime and safeguard the system. Station workers pressed emergency buttons equipped in station booths 171,370 times in 2008, according to agency figures.

“These cuts may create gaps in the layered infrastructure of local stations,” wrote U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, (D-Miss.), chairman of the homeland security committee, along with U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, (D-Brooklyn), and Sheila Jackson Lee, (D–Texas). “A human presence is important for securing an open transit environment.”

Station agents also play a roll in discouraging terrorism in the subways, the letter stated.
MTA officials, who are desperately trying to fill a $750 million budgetary gap, emphasized that the system remains secure.

“The subway system today is the safest it has been in many years,” Donovan said. “There will continue to be a strong human presence.”

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