The trouble with the Transit Adjudication BureauBy
Let’s talk about the old City Hall loop station long out of service. Sitting under City Hall Park and, well, City Hall, it’s a Guastavino beauty that served as the launching point for the crazy, cacophonous subway system we have come to know and, at various times and various moods, love or hate. It closed to passenger service in 1945, a victim of a poorly designed platform and declining ridership. It’s open now for tours, and passengers are permitted to ride 6 trains through the loop from the southbound Brooklyn Bridge platform to the north side. Take that ride during the day if you never have. It’s the closest thing you can find to hopping into a time machine.
Let’s also talk about the Transit Adjudication Bureau. The TAB is a quasi-judicial body set up to adjudicate summons issued in the subways and buses by NYPD cops. Since the hearings concern infractions and summons that don’t rise to the level of criminal charges, civil rights advocates, while wary of the TAB, have not gone to the mats over due process concerns. The TAB need not have due process protections required of criminal courts, but so long as some process is followed, it works. When that process breaks down, though, it’s concerning.
A few weeks, Joshua Patchus wanted to catch that City Hall stop, and so he and a friend rode the 6 through the loop. His subsequent blog post gives away the ending: He got a summons and decided to fight it. He lost in front of the Transit Adjudication Bureau. He broke no rules and no laws, and he shouldn’t have received a summons. Then the TAB failed. To me, that’s concerning.
Josh and I exchanged emails this week concerning his plight, and his story is a by-the-books example of transit justice gone wrong. The 6 train Patchus boarded announced “This is the last downtown stop on this train, the Next stop on this train is the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall on the uptown platform.” That’s a clear sign that it’s safe to stay on. The train left Brooklyn Bridge and proceeded through the City Hall Loop without stopping. As Josh explained to me, it took about as long to go from the downtown platform to the uptown platform as it did for the train to go from Canal St. to Brooklyn Bridge.
When the train arrived on the uptown platform, two police officers asked Patchus and his friend to exit the train. The cops then handed out summonses alleging a violation of Rule of Conduct 1050(6)(2d) — which is a posted sign or announcement. Patchus decided to fight and had as evidence the 6 train recording and an affirmative from the conductor allowing him to stay onboard. Still, it wasn’t enough to convince the TAB judge who claimed that the summons was “legally sufficient to establish a prima facie case.” The TAB decision stated as well that the “Respondent did disregard the overhead announcement.”
Now, clearly, the TAB was wrong. There was no overhead announcement because it wasn’t a violation of any rule to ride through the City Hall Loop. The summons is more defensible because these things happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe the cops were new to the beat; maybe they weren’t trained. The MTA has since assured me that the agency will work closely with the precincts to ensure riders are not ticketed for riding through the Loop.
What happened with the TAB raises serious concerns though. The TAB’s own procedures require the ticketing officer to prove that the respondent — in this case Patchus — has violated a rule, and the person receiving the summons can then dispute this claim. It’s the bedrock American principle of innocent until proven guilty. It doesn’t seem as though the TAB adjudicator cared much for this procedure or for the rules, and a ticket for something that isn’t a ticketable offense was upheld.
Now, for Patchus, all’s well that ends well as the MTA plans to get his case dismissed, but that happened only after reporters started sniffing around the story. Patchus had in fact planned to appeal, a move that would have cost him more time. The MTA couldn’t provide much information on how TAB got this wrong, but I wouldn’t be too thrilled to have to fight an improperly issued ticket only to see it upheld. The system seems broken, and outside of concerns over the constitutionality of TAB proceedings, the consequences have real costs for subway riders.