Hot on the heels of Friday’s rather controversial post about the funding and benefits issues facing the MTA, today we have a pair of stories about the dicey fate of MTA employees. We’ll start with the one about conductor-less trains right now and end in a few hours with another tale about the station agents.
Over the weekend, the Daily News reported that, in an effort to save on staffing costs, the MTA is considering cutting train conductors on numerous routes throughout the city. These so-called One Person Train Operations would reduce on-board staffing figures by 50 percent as only the driver would remain. This practice has been in place on lines, such as the G and shuttles, that run smaller cars, and if Transit is to implement this on a wider range, it would be the first reduction of on-board personnel in some time.
As with any publicized personnel cuts, transit advocates and union officials are none too pleased. “Axing the conductor may save the MTA money, but it comes at the expense of the safety and security of the rider,” Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphangers Campaign, said to News reporter Pete Donohue.
Donohue reminds us of another time during which the MTA tried to pull conductors out of trains:
The MTA took conductors off the L line in 2005, but had to put them back after an arbitrator ruled that its contract with Transport Workers Union Local 100 required approval by the union. The following year, the same arbitrator stopped the MTA from taking conductors off G trains on weekdays.
After the second ruling, the MTA stopped putting OPTO plans in its annual budgets and four-year fiscal plans. Sources told The News that the MTA is again seeking the staffing change as a way to save money.
Transit officials have argued in the past that trains can run safely with just a motorman, as police and firefighters quickly respond to track fires and other emergencies. Officials also have argued that train evacuations between stations are infrequent and have been conducted without passengers suffering injuries.
I let those official statements speak for themselves. The cuts are well and good if they save money and eliminate redundant personnel, but the one time Transit needs to run an evacuation, the lack of a conductor will become an issue. Of course, it’s easy to train one person to handle a subway full of panicking passengers, but advocates will always argue for safety in numbers.
The TWU has already begun its defense of the conductors. “Of course, this is one of management’s demands. This is something the MTA has been pursuing the last two or three bargaining rounds and we continue to completely disagree with them,” a Local 100 spokesman said to the News.
In addition to the G and L lines, in the past, the MTA has pegged the J, M and 7 as candidates for conductor-less trains. I say, “Why not?” The safety concerns, while reasonable, seem overblown, and the L line has the technology to run completely unmanned trains. The driverless trains along the Paris Metro’s Line 14 have been a success, and if the MTA can reduce costs by cutting, it is at least a plan to consider.