Could a station agent — barred from leaving the booth — have prevented this robbery? (Photo via Campaign to Take Back Our Transit System)
After engaging in some political theater last week when it hosted court-mandated public hearings, the MTA Board is set to vote on the proposal to axe 240 station agents and shutter dozens of booths throughout the system. As John Mancini at New York 1 reports today, the board is a foregone conclusion, and the authority will also vote to approve a proposal to raise the fares as planned in 2011.
Already, transit activists and union supporters are up in arms over the two developments, and both groups have reason to be. The union is trying to save jobs while transit activists fear that the double whammy of service cuts in June and fare hikes in January will lead to more animosity from a public deeply skeptical of the MTA. “Last month, we had the deepest service cuts in a generation and now we’re being asked to pay more as riders for our subways and buses. It’s just not fair. It’s not mass transit if the masses can’t afford it,” Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives said to NY1.
While we could debate White’s assertion that the masses can’t afford it, his point is a good one. We are being asked to pay more for less. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the debate over station agents. Or at least that’s what the TWU wants subway riders to believe. In an article in this week’s Downtown Express, John Bayles goes in depth into the station agent/subway safety argument. It’s one I’ve rehashed on numerous occasions, but Bayles’ article has some revealing statements from public officials and city politicians.
City Council representative Margaret Chin wants to keep station agents so they can help evacuate Lower Manhattan in the event of another once-a-decade terrorist attack. “In the tragic event of another attack in our community, these workers would be crucial in directing passengers to safety. Closing the booths at the Fulton St./Broadway-Nassau and Wall Street stops is particularly worrisome,” she said at one of the public hearings. “These areas of Lower Manhattan remain prime terror targets, with the subways themselves a likely target. Imagine the grizzly scenario: hundreds of passengers stranded in the subway stops, with no cell phone service — and now no means of communicating with authorities.”
Chin ignores the fact that every station will have at least one worker at all times and that emergency personnel will still be dispatched to the stations in the event of a disaster. It sounds good, though, to play into public fears over personal safety.
John Samuelsen, who makes well over $100,000 a year as president of the TWU with close to another $20,000 in other compensation, chose another approach. He attacked the MTA Board member’s personal wealth and the CEO’s salary. “It is a travesty that Jay Walder and the other fat cats on the board are sitting on this money,” he said, referring to money going toward capital construction and other union jobs. Unfortunately for Samuelsen and the TWU, those jobs aren’t from his union, and so he could care less if the authority needs that money to keep the trains running.
The shuttering of the booths is a foregone conclusion though. The MTA Board is going to vote on it on Wednesday, and in Albany, Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Assembly, said he would not pass the legislation requiring that the MTA keep the booths open for three years. He recognized that such an unfunded mandate would not serve the overall good of straphangers. “I am concerned that this legislation would force the MTA to make up lost savings through deeper service cuts or a higher fare,” he said. “The simple fact is New Yorkers cannot afford another fare hike or more cuts in service.”
So the debate rolls on. Some people think station agents who are barred from leaving their booths serve a safety function. Others recognize that the MTA is up a creek without a paddle. No matter the temporary cost savings, the truth is that the subways will cost more, and straphangers will enjoy more crowded trains that run less frequently with fewer workers in the system. For that, we have only Albany to blame.