As I briefly mentioned on Monday afternoon, in response to two recent high-profile 12-9 incidents, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 had mulled issuing a slowdown order, urging TOs to crawl into subway stations. Tonight, more details of the order emerged, and the MTA responded forcefully, citing the Taylor Law. As we near the one-year anniversary of the expiration of the last TWU contract, accusations of politicking are in the air.
The TWU poster [pdf] that has gone up throughout the system hit the Internet tonight, and it urges TOs to enter stations with “extra care.” It says, “Whether someone jumped, fell or was pushed in front of the train, more than 150 T/Os have had to deal with the after-effects of their train hitting someone on the tracks. None of the 150-plus 12-9s were caused by improper operation by any T/O. However, we might prevent some 12-9s by coming into stations more slowly.”
But how slow is “slowly”? Pretty slowly. “In the interest of safety, enter every station as if there is a pair of yellow lanterns at the entrance,” the sign says. “Slow down, blow your horn, and proceed with caution. Preventing a 12-9, and saving yourself the emotional trauma and potential loss of income that go with it, is worth a few extra minutes on your trip. If you are asked where you lost your time, say you were operating safely to prevent 12-9s.” The double yellow lantern essentially means the trains would head into stations at around 10 miles per hour, well below current accepted speeds of 25-30 miles per hour. Such a rate would slow down operations significantly.
The MTA, meanwhile, responded forcefully. As Pete Donohue reported, MTA officials believed the TWU was simply acting, in part, to draw attention to its current contract negotiations. “Any slowdowns in the system which results from this concerted union activity may be considered a job action,” Christopher Johnson, Transit’s V.P. of Labor Relations, said to The Daily News.
In a subsequent statement, the agency elaborated: “Some of the actions the [TWU is] recommending, if implemented, would result in even more hazardous conditions due to overcrowding on platforms and onboard trains. There are other, more effective ways of making the system safer than slowing down train service and we are committed to working towards them.”
Transit officials explained the impact of any potential slowdown to The Wall Street Journal:
Slowing one train on its way into a station has the effect of slowing all the trains behind it in the system, MTA spokesman Charles Seaton said. The backups that would result from requiring every train to slow down significantly at each station would mean fewer train trips every day, Mr. Seaton said, reducing the efficiency of the subway system, which moves about 5 million passengers a day.
And with many subway lines already operating over or near capacity at morning and evening rush hours, reducing the trains’ speed would likely lead to increased crowding on station platforms. That condition already raises safety concerns on the oldest and narrowest station platforms in the system.
“It would certainly make it a lot more difficult to get on board trains, and platforms would be much more crowded,” said Mr. Seaton, who added that MTA officials hadn’t noticed drivers abiding by the slow-down order as of Monday afternoon.
There is no doubt that these train/person accidents create lasting psychological problems for the T/Os. Matt Flegenheimer adroitly profiled those issues in a Times article earlier this week. But these slowdowns are simply unnecessary. There are, as Market Urbanism’s Stephen Smith noted on Twitter, no subway systems in the world that mandate station approaches at such slow speeds, and such a move would negatively impact operations.
So the labor battle continues, as it has for a year. This is the first potential TWU action since Joe Lhota, a leader TWU head John Samuelsen seemingly respected, departed the MTA. It likely won’t be the last until and unless a new contract is in place. And so we wait.