The City Council’s Transportation Committee is in full-fledged oversight mode today. Even as “no criminality” remains the norm for the daily pedestrian deaths caused by drivers, the committee has decided to hold an emergency hearing on subway platform safety. With 54 deaths out of 1.6 billion riders, this is only a problem due to a pair of recent high-profile incidents. It’s always tragic when someone gets hit by a train, but in terms of pressing problems, this is not one of them.
Still, the show must go on. As the MTA embarks on a new public awareness campaign and eyes subway track sensor technology, the TWU has continued to push for slow trains. Preying on outsized public fears and stoking the flames of general unease with subway platforms, union members — including one dressed as the Grim Reaper — will be distributing the MetroCards you see above and at right this afternoon at some Lower Manhattan subway stations. It is not, by any means, a calm or rational approach to discussing the problem (if there’s even a problem).
As the cards show, the TWU wants three things. It wants trains to slow to a crawl while entering stations. Even at 10 miles per hour though, a huge subway train can do considerable damage to someone who jumps or falls in front of it. Additionally, the dollar cost of such a slowdown would be quite significant, and the MTA says slower trains would seriously reduce travel times and system capacity, leading to dangerous overcrowding.
Second, the TWU wants eyes on the platforms. I can’t disagree with this even if it is a blatant ploy for more jobs for union members. When I pass through Times Square each morning, MTA workers are on the IRT platforms making sure people are safely entering and exiting trains. No harm can come from watchful eyes as long as they are doing their work and contributing to safety.
Third, the TWU wants an emergency power shut-off in station booths. I struggle to see why this is a bad idea. As long as proper protocols are put into place, the only issue I can see concerns the amount of time it would take to power back up. I’m not familiar enough with the technical details of power delivery to the third track to go in depth on this request.
So two of the TWU’s three requests seem sensible, but the first one is obscuring the others. They’ve managed to turn slower trains into some mindworm that Transportation Committee Chairman James Vacca has whole-heartedly embraced, and their public statements are either misleading or misinformed. In defending their bloody MetroCards, a TWU spokesman called slower trains “a quick, easy and no-cost solution” when it is clearly not a quick or no-cost solution.
I believe the union has turned this into such a public matter due to the state of its current contract. Negotiations are stalled until the MTA has a permanent head, and it’s been nearly 13 months since the last agreement expired. But cooler heads should prevail. A train slowdown just isn’t the right answer, and neither is incessant fearmongering.