Home Service Cuts Station agent calls: a lot or too few?

Station agent calls: a lot or too few?

by Benjamin Kabak

As part of its service cuts, the MTA is eliminating over 600 station agents throughout the system. While the authority will have at least one agent at every station at all times, the 2400 agents will be stretched thin, and numerous stops — such as those that are one way only and do not feature an in-system crossover — will be with the bare minimum of agent eyes.

Over the last few months, as these cuts have come into focus, the debate has often centered around the usefulness of the station agents, and today, the Daily News sheds some light on the issue. Station agents, reports Pete Donohue, have placed over 500,000 emergency calls over the last three years. That’s a lot, right?

Well, let’s do some math. In 2009, agents placed 150,624 calls. Some of those, notes Donohue, are follow-up calls to let dispatch know that the problem has been resolved. But we can assume that’s the base number. With 365 days in the year, that averages out to 412 calls per day. There are 422 subway stations throughout the system. So on average each station is reporting slightly less than one emergency per day.

With seven million straphangers passing through the MTA’s turnstiles each day, those 412 phone calls seem rather de minimus. Furthermore, the station agents won’t be entirely eliminated. There will still be 2400 agents staffing the system, and each station, as I said above, will be staffed at all hours. A few people might feel less safe; a few people might be more inconvenienced. I can’t help but think, however, that the concerns about safety expressed by rider advocates are more than a little overblown.

An artistic station agent drew the sign above. It was photographed by flickr user bitchcakesny.

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13 comments

Todd March 26, 2010 - 4:12 pm

From the article: “the clerks used an emergency-only telephone line connecting them to the transit command center an average of 412 times a day last year…Their calls summoned police officers, firefighters, ambulance crews or transit agency workers, depending on the situation.”

So the clerks, (who stay in the booth, regardless of the emergency) are necessary because they make a call to a 911-like agency? Couldn’t this call be just as easily be made by the person who is reporting the emergency?

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Jay March 30, 2010 - 11:09 am

Hey Todd yes that is correct we make 911 calls but also give directions help with crowd control and general orders. The thing you must understand is that many people don’t want to get involved when an emergency happens….because for one you have to stay put,wait for police ,ambulance or firefighters,write statements , talk to Transit personnel and possibly testify as a witness( in court). That’s about 2 hrs out a persons day. You know people don’t want to do it so that is the Station Agents role. Look what happened the other day in the news where those 2 guys got knifed ( killed) on the 2 train ,dint you see that no one saw the assailant leaving the station? Their was no Agent on duty and still at large. The Moscow bombing 25 dead 13 injured…Ive taken Homeland Security Terrorist course that were mandated by them through my job, and it is proven that the mere presence of a person deters crime and plays a psychological affect on people , making them think twice before doing anything stupid. I myself have saved lives ( a woman going to get beat up by her boyfriend right in the station-i warned him and he left, A child was lost at Jay street in Brooklyn and the family dint speak any English etc. $27 Million lost in one year it( and that’s just by Traffic checkers count only which means it is off by another $8-12 million) only cost $13 million to keep an Agent at every booth. The MTA is very good at making the public believe other wise. They are a Government Agency and have many resources.

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Benjamin Kabak March 30, 2010 - 11:21 am

If you think station agents could stop a bombing similar to the one that happened in Moscow, I think you are — no offense — just wrong. Terrorism and the crime station agents may deter are far, far different.

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Jay March 30, 2010 - 11:36 am

None taken, but the same goes for the cameras that are placed around the system that don’t even work, and person is far better than a camera, to make the system Automated is the right path to go but MTA is no where near ready to or even start even the Police Union agrees that officers cannot take this burden now especially with all the short falls that are happening

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BrooklynBus March 27, 2010 - 8:30 pm

Not if cell phones don’t work underground. Are you suggesting passengers seek out a pay phone in an emergency? Intercoms and Security cameras were supposed to have been installed before station agents were to be eliminated. Now we find out that half of them were never even hooked up. Statistics don’t matter when it’s your life at stake. Ask yourself again if riders’ cocerns are really overblown?

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rhywun March 28, 2010 - 2:01 am

I’m torn on this issue. On the one hand, I DO like having an “official” warm body nearby when I’m waiting in a station late at night. It “feels” safer. On the other hand, crime in NYC is far lower than other cities I’ve lived in where there are zero station agents (e.g. Buffalo), and on top of that, I haven’t actually interacted with an agent since the vending machines started accepting TransitChek, which was like six or seven years ago. So… I feel that if we can’t afford the agents, why not get rid of ’em. My cynical side suspects, however, that we CAN afford them, and they’re being used as pawns in the fight for more dollars, much like the recently-approved “draconian” service cuts which actually don’t make a dent in the budget but make for good headlines.

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Jay March 30, 2010 - 11:29 am

To Rhywun , hey i understand the issue , but crime is not low , the #s are being played with and the reason i know first hand is because , Do you remember the 81 precinct that was on the news about the #’s were being toned down to make the Captains look good and the neighborhood seem safe so people can move in. I have a child hood friend that works in that precinct there and for a while now he as express to me concerns regarding this issue but cant say nothing because they WILL Retaliate against you and that sucks. An that is coming straight from the Top , the Mayor , look whats happen now with all the murders on the rise , My brother in Law is also a cop and he actually designs the crime maps that are used in these monthly meetings and he to was investigated for playing with #’s but unbeknown to his knowledge,because his captain would come in and change the #’s and he almost got fired , so please people we must wise up to whats really going on and the mayor is just interested in making himself look good on the backs on everyone else !! and i actually voted for that loser.

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BrooklynBus March 28, 2010 - 5:01 pm

Firing the agents and the cuts are easy choices so that’s why they were chosen. There are other ways of coming up with dollars, like reducing waste, but more work is involved to find out what needs to be done. The MTA always looks for the easiest way out.

Firing the agents, just adds to the list of MTA broken promises. When they were removed from the token booths and put on the platforms or mezzanines to assist passengers, the MTA promised none would be fired, just reassigned. It may have made sense to take them out of the booths, but I believe it was always tthe MTA’s intention to eventually let them go.

I’m also torn. Maybe they should be fired. But I’m of the opinion that it should not be done until all the security cameras and intercoms are hooked up and operational. Doing it now, without those measures leaves the riders totally unprotected. Virtually all the poilce in the trains are now undercover, if they are there at all. I believe there are much fewer police patrolling the subways today than when the Police were under MTA control, instead of the NYPD.

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rhywun March 29, 2010 - 1:04 am

The MTA always looks for the easiest way out.

Agreed. And the “easy way” is usually the one that gets the most media attention. Witness the ridiculous idea to eliminate student transit — no one in their right mind thinks that will actually come to pass. The governor, or some enterprising assemblymen (maybe even The Fair-Hike Four), will “find” the money and “save the day”.

Despite being torn on the station agents, I’m gradually coming around to the belief that the agents are largely superfluous now that their major function–selling tokens–is long gone. Laying ’em all off won’t balance the budget… but it should be done anyway. A few might be retained at the major tranfer stations in Manhattan (tourists are always asking for help), but otherwise they serve no useful function.

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Jay March 30, 2010 - 11:40 am

look at this link( 09-12 seconds ….no Agent! http://www.ny1.com/1-all-borou.....rID=115987

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Jay March 30, 2010 - 11:43 am Reply
Benjamin Kabak March 30, 2010 - 11:45 am

I already wrote about the lack of video surveillance at Christopher St. in this post this morning. Just FYI: You’re not commenting on the latest developments here.

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Jay March 30, 2010 - 12:03 pm

Ah yes dint see, but to answer to your(each station, as I said above, will be staffed at all hours) did you forget how big a station is and that staffing just one side of the station is silly , what about the other side and the ones that are across the street like 23 street 6ave or even worse 9 street on the R in Brooklyn which you have cross the avenue to get to the clerk,, oh and those so called help Boxes have an 12-18 second delay before you reach someone then another 8-15 second for them to contact the police, there are a lot of things that happen everyday that do not get reported and you know that , just remember you only say that until something ( god forbid) happens to you or loved one.

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