Feb
16

Building a better station agent

By

What are the MTA’s current crew of station agents? Are they babysitters? Security theater? A poor attempt at public comfort? Cushy jobs? Some mix of the above? In the years since station agents stopped selling the bulk of fares, the positions have been whittled away to whatever they are now. Each station supposedly has one agent on duty at all times, but most station agents can’t see the platforms and provide psychological comfort more so than actual comfort.

Now, if the MTA and TWU can come to terms, the roll of the agents may expand. The Daily News has the story:

The station agent of the future could be dispensing subway directions from a tablet instead of MetroCards from a booth. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its workers union are planning a four-station pilot program where station agents will leave their cramped cubicles to get face time with passengers on the platform.

The workers could be equipped with tablets to help straphangers navigate service disruptions, retrieve cellphones and other items dropped on the tracks, and aid sick or injured passengers. The goal is to have “proactive customer service inside the stations, for all needs of the customers, whatever they need,” said an official familiar with the negotiations. “It’s based on the model of the London Underground, which has multiple customer service agents,” the official said…

No agreement about the scope of the pilot, which could launch as early as next year, has been reached, transit and union officials said. “It’s something we’re exploring in order to improve customer service by providing agents with the opportunity to interact and communicate with customers outside the confines of a booth,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

According to the News, the pilot could launch at one station per borough and would likely include high-traffic areas such as Columbus Circle or Jackson Heights where a mix of tourists would require the resources these station agents could offer. Interestingly, as well, the report indicates that the TWU is concerned its station agents will be eliminated following the eventual death of the MetroCard in a few years, and TWU officials believe staffing numbers for these new-look agents could top the number of agents currently employed by the MTA. How the agency will pay for this program is an open question.

Over the years, the TWU has objected to removing station agents from the booths on the grounds of safety, but recently, as the subways have seen a marked decrease in crime and a marked increase in crowding, MTA workers have been stationed on platforms at popular stations to help ease crowding concerns. There have been no reported incidents involving these employees, and the TWU seems more willing to explore job flexibility now. Looking to London where stations are staffed by multiple workers (and, in fact, where station staffing levels have led to disputes over Night Tube service) may provide the union with a boost as well.

As the MTA has a rather tortured history with pilot programs, it’s hard to get too excited one way or another over yet another pilot, but this one may be worth watching as its structure develops over the next few years.



Categories : Transit Labor

88 Responses to “Building a better station agent”

  1. Streater says:

    the most useless workers on the subway… next to the cleaning staff

    • tacony says:

      I was going to say, if station agents are idle maybe they could pick up a mop and bucket and wash the filthy floors that are never properly cleaned? I know Ben has implied that the Rome metro was dirtier, but I think it only gives that impression because it still has grafitti– NYC is the world’s shame in lack of basic station surface cleaning, and it’s one of the worst things about the system.

    • Nathanael says:

      The conductors are quite certainly the most useless. Practically speaking, they could be eliminated just by moving the “this is where you stop” board from the conductor position to the motorman position.

      Maybe if there’s a big expansion of station agents, the conductors could be retrained as station agents. “Problem stations” where the conductors provide visibility… could have platform agents, who already exist at some of these stations. And the conductors could be retrained to do that, too.

  2. Brooklynite says:

    For what it’s worth, London is trying to eliminate all of its ticket offices, so the TWU’s concerns aren’t entirely unfounded. And there are some operations that can’t be done in an MVM and require a person in a booth.

    • Roy says:

      London has suceeded – all the LU ticket offices have now closed. It’s been very controversial though.

    • Tower18 says:

      The only thing I’m aware of is combining multiple metrocards. What % of station agent interactions are Metrocard combine operations, and how much would it cost to program the MVMs to do this vs. the ongoing cost of station agents to perform this one task?

    • Chris C says:

      In London the people who were in the ticket office have been moved to the public areas – they assist passengers with the ticket machines )and there are more machines that previously) as well as providing directions and general assistance.

      Some people did lose their jobs (mainly because they didn’t want the new roles) but more staff have been employed

  3. Herb Lehman says:

    It would be nice if the agents were deployed onto platforms specifically to manage traffic (and by extension, reduce delays) at busy stations — to stop passengers from congregating near one train car and disperse them throughout the platform, and even better, to get them to stop cramming onto overfilled cars and blocking the doors from closing. Of course, that’s probably close to impossible, if not totally impossible.

    • Roger says:

      I don’t want people as rude as MTA employees to yell at me at the subway platforms every day.

      • SEAN says:

        What is this – Training Day?

      • Chris C says:

        some people need yelling at!

        • TimK says:

          And some people don’t.

          A few years ago, a station agent in Brooklyn yelled at me because my MetroCard wasn’t working. Seriously. When I discovered the card wouldn’t work, and asked him for help, he started screaming at me. And at the other person in the station who was having the same problem (so it was probably the turnstiles, not us, having the problem).

          I used to support station agents, who I think have a tough job, but it got a lot harder for me to muster up any sympathy for them after this interaction.

          • SEAN says:

            Are you judging all agents based on one circumstance? Granted this one is particularly bad though.

            Just asking.

            • TimK says:

              I’m not exactly judging all agents based on one bad experience, but that experience lingers in my mind and colors my thoughts when I hear the arguments about how the station agents’ work responsibilities should be modified, or whether their jobs should just be eliminated.

              As Maggie posted separately, I’ve rarely experienced actual helpfulness from a station agent. That plays a role as well.

            • Michael says:

              I’ve had the same experience so many times. I, too, used to be a big fan and supporter of station agents. But then I had so many experiences that soured my opinion.
              Well over 50% of the interactions I’ve had or witnessed with station agents have involved them being unnecessarily rude to passengers who come to them with reasonable questions or concerns. The irony is that their jobs are becoming obsolete. You’d think they’d go above and beyond to be nice and helpful and show that they’re an important piece of the system. But, alas, they most often don’t…

    • edc says:

      They already have people at busy stations like Union Square and Grand Central to (supposedly) do just that. Although I have never seen the workers do anything beyond wave a flashlight in the middle of the platform.

      • Joe says:

        My understanding of the flashlight people is they are there for safety and can signal to the conductor when it’s safe or not safe to close the doors and proceed.

        • tacony says:

          I actually do think that the “platform conductors” have a slightly positive role in reducing passenger stupidity. I think some people are less likely to try to intentionally jam themselves into a closing door and cause delays when there’s an employee on the platform watching them do it. I kind of assumed that this was what their role was.

          • Nathanael says:

            The “platform conductors” are an improved replacement for the conductors on the trains. Add enough platform conductors, you should be able to get rid of the conductors on the trains entirely — the platform conductor can signal directly to the motorman.

      • Herb Lehman says:

        I know that large stations have the flashlight-wavers. They’re there just to guide the conductors and are ineffective at actually doing anything beyond that. My thought was that the relocated station agents could go a step further and actively stop passengers from boarding overcrowded trains and holding doors. (I realize it’s probably not realistic, but if the MTA won’t or can’t increase the number of actual trains running, then we need to think of more drastic solutions to reduce delays.)

        • Brooklynite says:

          More rigorous operational discipline (borrowed from their overseas counterparts) would do wonders for the people at MTA. About your idea of actively stopping people from boarding crowded trains: I will admit, I jam into trains where it looks like there isn’t room. There always is. The MTA person isn’t going to physically block me from jumping on, or pull me off, so the most they can do is yell at me, which wouldn’t really help MTA’s image wrt customer service.

  4. SEAN says:

    If this pilot is successful, then it should go system wide. Understanding of course that larger stations may need more than one agent such as Times Square as well as those stations that lack access between both sides such as 72nd & Broadway.

  5. Larry Littlefield says:

    As I pointing out, there have been productivity gains over the years in subway car and infrastructure maintenance, but none for subway and station operation. With public employees, like the one percent, getting richer and richer relative to us serfs, we have been squeezed as a result.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/the-nyc-subway-squeezing-the-serfs/

    Does this imply a recognition by the political/union class that there is a limit to the extent this can do on? I doubt it. Just PR. Americans with advantages have proven as incapable of enlightened self interest as they are of concerned for the children’s future — or even their own future.

  6. Roger says:

    NYC subway as it stands today is very, very confusing for tourists, and transforming the duties of station agents won’t solve the problem.

    The problem is that NYC subway is just too unique. Unlike almost every other subway system in the world, NYC has a distinction between “lines” and “trains”, so there is a huge amount of interlining going on here. And it is simply confusing.

    And this causes problems. Delays on a shared track can propagate to the whole system. This in turn limits the number of trains per hour and results in unreasonably long waiting times. (25~30tph is pretty much the norm elsewhere in the world for NYC-grade cities during rush hours). Interlining also diminishes any hope of implementing CBTC outside 7 and L unless MTA shuts the whole subway system down.

    The supposed benefit of “one-seat rides” is eclipsed by these drawbacks. What’s the huge deal with 2 or 3 seat rides if the train is guaranteed to show up every 2 or 3 minutes?

    I don’t see why de-interlining is not doable. For the 1/2/3 train, just leave 1 and 2 unchanged and shorten 3 into a 148 St – 135 St Shuttle. 4 train is shortened to Borough Hall. 5 trains is Dyre Av to E 180 only, and leave 6 train unchanged.

    Beyond de-interlining, there are many cosmetic changes that go a long way in terms of usability.

    Just call A,B,C,D, etc. trains as Line 11, Line 12, Line 13, Line 14… It is a bit nonsensical to use both number and letters to refer to lines, and unlike us, ordinary passengers would not be relishing the good old days of IRT/BMT rivalry while waiting for the train. When I first came to NYC I just imagined that the lettered lines are not “real” subway lines, perhaps they are some light rail or streetcar lines? 🙂

    Instead, use the letters to label the different entrances/exits of a station, the same way Hong Kong does. So it is easier to tell the riders that, for example, “the B entrance of 66 St. Lincoln Center has an elevator” or “the C entrance of Cathedral Parkway – 110 St is uptown only” and so on. These entrance/exit labels are good for specifying the location of a rendezvous.

    And please, have a one-to-one mapping between stations and their names. There is no reason why there has to be six “23 Street” stations in the whole system, or two “36 Street” stations on the same line. There is also no reason why Bleecker St and B’way Lafayette St cannot have the same name.

    Although the US economy is not degenerate enough to rely on tourism for its livelihood, it certainly helps if NYC subway presents itself to the rest of America and the rest of the world in an logical, intuitive and usable way.

    My parents are coming to NYC soon. Since they don’t speak English, I fear that they won’t be able to navigate this system on their own, despite the fact that Paris Metro was doable to my dad.

    • Roger says:

      I seem to have forgotten 3 and 4 from nostrand to new lots though.

    • Michael549 says:

      Your statements (numbers)
      My statements (letters)

      1) The problem is that NYC subway is just too unique. And it is simply confusing.

      A) Tough, it is New York City! The gathering of different towns, villages and boroughs into a collective whole called the “Greater City Of New York” by a vote in 1894. This gathering of separate towns, villages and boroughs to form “NYC” means that various places will have their own histories, treasures and amenities. Starting from a small Dutch outpost in 1600’s with slaves and native Americans on the bay of a great river to this huge metropolis. The history and variety is what makes NYC great.

      2) There is a huge amount of interlining going on here.

      B) That is the way the subways were built from day one! There is no way to “de-interline” or to make it simpler although plenty have tried. “Dumbing down the system” has also brought about several problems.

      3) There is no reason why there has to be six “23 Street” stations in the whole system, or two “36 Street” stations on the same line.

      C) This is one of the part about “Dumbing down the system” that I mentioned – the leaving off the relevant avenue names and cross streets. While a station being on 23rd Street is important – more important are the avenues and cross streets – there is a very big difference between Eighth Avenue and Park Avenue South. Ever ask a cabbie to drop you off at 23rd Street in Brooklyn? If you do not know the cross-streets or avenues – you are lost! True New Yorkers understand that, plus a map helps.

      4) I don’t see why de-interlining is not doable. For the 1/2/3 train, just leave 1 and 2 unchanged and shorten 3 into a 148 St – 135 St Shuttle. 4 train is shortened to Borough Hall. 5 trains is Dyre Av to E 180 only, and leave 6 train unchanged.

      D) You DO REALIZE that in your scheme the very heavily traveled Brooklyn segment will only get service by the #2 train; that operations at 135th Street will be hampered greatly; the Borough Hall as a transfer station between your #2 and your #4 will create a great hardship, and that trains to/from New Lots Avenue in your scheme do not exist. Your scheme is utterly un-workable and well make worse the transit trips of millions, beyond being not necessary.

      This is the part about your knowing NOTHING about New York City history or transit. The basic #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6 & #7 lines have been operating in their basic general form since the 1920’s – the newer people are just gonna have to adapt.

      5) Although the US economy is not degenerate enough to rely on tourism for its livelihood, it certainly helps if NYC subway presents itself to the rest of America and the rest of the world in an logical, intuitive and usable way.

      E) That’s why there are tour guides, tourist references and tourist maps – there’s a whole industry behind the effort. Do you wanna put those folks out of work?

      Seriously, if you knew your New York City you would know that the subways were all not built at the same time, and were not built by the same companies. The subways were often built and operated by different companies at different times, serving different needs – and over time were gathered into the Transit Authority, and with other transit operations joined later into the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

      6) Interlining also diminishes any hope of implementing CBTC outside 7 and L unless MTA shuts the whole subway system down.

      F) Computer Based Train Control or Communications has NOTHING, NONE, ZIP, NADA to do with “interlining” – both exist separately, and both can exist together, neither one depends upon the other. It is a complete myth that one needs the other!

      7) There is also no reason why Bleecker St and B’way Lafayette St cannot have the same name.

      G) Let’s see the Bleecker Street station opened in 1904, and the Broadway/Lafayette Steet at Houston Street opened in 1934. Maybe the builders of the IND station should have named their station Bleecker Street?

      This is evidence that you really do not KNOW your New York City history or transit history. Two separate stations built by two separate companies much later joined together – first in the downtown only direction, and recently in the uptown direction. Boy, you do not know your transit history! You just do not!

      8) Instead, use the letters to label the different entrances/exits of a station, the same way Hong Kong does. So it is easier to tell the riders that, for example, “the B entrance of 66 St. Lincoln Center …

      H) We are not Hong Kong. Using street addresses is much simpler – “I’m at the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West”, and so on. Often not all subway entrances/exits are open at all hours, plus the floor plans of many stations are very different. The standard is that there is no standard. At times the closing of entrances/exists for fiscal reasons, etc. Again leading to “no standard.”

      9) It is a bit nonsensical to use both number and letters to refer to lines, and unlike us, ordinary passengers would not be relishing the good old days of IRT/BMT rivalry while waiting for the train.

      I) Again, this is the evidence that you really do not KNOW your New York City history or transit history. You just do not!

      The subways were often built and operated by different companies at different times with the “more recent” systems (BMT & IND) using the same specifications for trains, train sizes and tunnels. Basically there are two subway systems – the letters (built/opened 1920’s-40’s) and the numbers (1904-1920’s) – where the trains can not operate in passenger service on each other’s tracks. Both systems use parts of transit lines that existed prior to the building of the subways, as well as parts converted from commuter railroads, as well as newer sections built since the creation of the Transit Authority, and MTA.

      10) It certainly helps if NYC … presents itself to the rest of America and the rest of the world in an logical, intuitive and usable way.

      J) So long as the current butch of rabid conservative Republicans remain in power what you suggest is simply not possible.

      Seriously, on many smart-cell phones there are apps that help folks travel about the city and understand train and travel schedules. Sitting down with a basic tour guide of New York City (available in many languages) helps many tourists and new settlers understand and to get around the city.

      ——-

      The bottom line. You do not KNOW New York!
      Mike

      • TimK says:

        Let’s see the Bleecker Street station opened in 1904, and the Broadway/Lafayette Steet at Houston Street opened in 1934. Maybe the builders of the IND station should have named their station Bleecker Street?
        This is evidence that you really do not KNOW your New York City history or transit history. Two separate stations built by two separate companies much later joined together – first in the downtown only direction, and recently in the uptown direction. Boy, you do not know your transit history! You just do not!

        Those are reasons why the stations did not originally have the same name. They are not reasons why the stations cannot currently have the same name.

        We are not Hong Kong. Using street addresses is much simpler – “I’m at the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West”, and so on. Often not all subway entrances/exits are open at all hours, plus the floor plans of many stations are very different. The standard is that there is no standard. At times the closing of entrances/exists for fiscal reasons, etc. Again leading to “no standard.”

        Using street addresses and compass directions to refer to station exits is definitely not “simpler” than labeling them with short designations. (Letters might not work because New York uses letters to identify subway lines, but designations like A1, A2, etc. could work.)

        • RH says:

          Re: simplifying station names. Renaming for simplicity sake can be done. The A/C stop at Fulton street was called Broadway-Nassau until a few years ago.

          Re: in-station signage, I totally agree that we’re light years behind a place like Hong Kong. I was there last month and it really helps you navigate the large stations, which don’t seem to be all that uniform given the different lines running through them, and complex real estate conditions.

          Maybe a 1 line station doesn’t require much way-finding signage, but for large stations with a ton of tourist spots, it would certainly be nice. Think GCT, Times Square, Penn Station, Union Square, Columbus Circle, Fulton/Chambers/City Hall, etc. We shouldn’t assume that only tourists need help. The Financial District and parts of the West Village can be mazes for even long-time NYers who don’t frequent those neighborhoods.

        • Brooklynite says:

          As I said in another comment, the labels would probably not be replacing the street indicators. Seeing a sign that says “exit A2” is completely useless if I didn’t feel the need to sit down at a computer before my trip and see where each exit leads. Seeing a sign that says “42nd St, 7th Av, SE corner, exit A2” is better, but why introduce the exit labeling then at all? It’s just extra clutter.

          • TimK says:

            The exit designations, to my mind, should not replace the street corner designations, but they should be primary. It might look like this (think of the bold text as being significantly larger than the unbolded text):
            —————————-
            Exit A3
            42nd St at 8th Av, SE corner
            —————————-

            That doesn’t strike me as “cluttered” at all.

            In addition, I personally have a slight allergy to people who are information minimalists. Information is there for people who don’t know, and it needs to work and be sufficient for them. People who don’t need it can ignore it.

            In general, the subway needs a much more systematic approach to signage. The Vignelli program from the early 1970s, which was very systematically designed, should have been executed fully and maintained properly. That would help a lot.

            • adirondacker12800 says:

              Why does it need a label?

              • TimK says:

                For simplicity. It makes it much easier to identify station exits rather than having to use street names and compass directions.

                • Brooklynite says:

                  The place I am going is, by definition, located on a street, and if it’s not on the street the exit is on it is some compass direction from that exit. That’s why that information is helpful.

                  • TimK says:

                    The place I am going is, by definition, located on a street, and if it’s not on the street the exit is on it is some compass direction from that exit. That’s why that information is helpful.

                    I don’t recall saying it wasn’t helpful. That’s why I included it in my example sign. It is, however, too long and convoluted to serve as a convenient identifier for an exit.

                    • Brooklynite says:

                      If I am going to a destination, I know the streets it is on. I do not need to be told in advance to use exit “42nd St & 7th Av SE corner,” because if I see a sign for that exit I will realize that my destination is close to both 42nd St and 7th Av and will use that exit. If I don’t see that exit, I will exit via the closest one to my destination that I can find (say, 41st St & 7th Av SE corner”) and walk from there.

                      To sum up, I believe exits are not ID’d often enough for the extra layer of information and the potential for increased crowding to be worth it.

            • Brooklynite says:

              If I did not sit down beforehand and research the layout of the station, telling me that exit A2 is to the left is useless. The place where the exit actually leads, which is the important part because it ties me to the city in which I am navigating, should not be the fine print.

              Information minimalism has its place; as it stands NYC subway signage is not one of them. However, introducing an extraneous layer of coding (in this case, exit numbers to exit locations) is unnecessary in my opinion.

              • TimK says:

                If I did not sit down beforehand and research the layout of the station, telling me that exit A2 is to the left is useless.

                You’re missing the point, which is that you might not have to research the layout of the station in order to know that exit A2 is the one you want. That information would typically be provided by whoever is giving directions; e.g., a store might say that the nearest subway station is 42nd St-PABT, and that the nearest exit is A2. Of course, this is something you could figure out on your own before beginning a trip as well, say if you’re going to visit a friend and you know where she lives, but in many cases you wouldn’t have to.

                When you leave the train, all you have to do is follow the signs to the correct exit. It simplifies the hell out of that portion of the journey.

                Obviously this isn’t relevant for simpler stations, but at complex ones like Grand Central, for example, it would be very helpful.

                • Brooklynite says:

                  I see what you’re saying; that can become a crowding issue though. If I want the exit that says “42nd & 7th, SE corner” but see “41st & 7th, SE corner” I will assume that it’s quicker to walk that distance along the street than through a crowded station, and exit. Meanwhile, if I memorize “exit A2” I will walk through the entire station until (if) I find exit A2. While that may save me half a minute above ground, it will cause additional crowding below, where space is at a premium.

                  Another thought: if all exits are signposted at each location in the station, then upon exiting at a larger station I will be bombarded with info on dozens of exits and how to get to them. If they aren’t, then I will wander around the (crowded) station looking for the right exit instead of (as above) picking the nearest one to my destination I can see and going from there.

                  • TimK says:

                    I see what you’re saying; that can become a crowding issue though. If I want the exit that says “42nd & 7th, SE corner” but see “41st & 7th, SE corner” I will assume that it’s quicker to walk that distance along the street than through a crowded station, and exit. Meanwhile, if I memorize “exit A2? I will walk through the entire station until (if) I find exit A2. While that may save me half a minute above ground, it will cause additional crowding below, where space is at a premium.

                    I see your point, but in reality I don’t think the crowding problems will be significant because it’s only a minority of riders who would need this particular kind of help at any given time. Seasoned riders know what exits to use and how to get to them, and whether it might make more sense to get to their destination from the street. But this is exactly the kind of thing that gets people lost, and I don’t understand the opposition to providing assistance for them. Someone unfamiliar with the city isn’t necessarily going to know that they can exit at 41st Street and walk up to 42nd; more importantly, even if they know they can do that, they may lack confidence in their ability to find the right way once they reach the street.

                    Another thought: if all exits are signposted at each location in the station, then upon exiting at a larger station I will be bombarded with info on dozens of exits and how to get to them. If they aren’t, then I will wander around the (crowded) station looking for the right exit instead of (as above) picking the nearest one to my destination I can see and going from there.

                    That’s simply a matter of picking intelligent designations so that the information can be presented in a concise form without losing informational value. E.g., all the exits from a particular fare control area (N.B.: I’m not using this as a technical term; I’m referring to a set of turnstiles with an agent booth) could begin with the same letter, so that signs on the platform could point you to “exits A1-A3” in one direction, and “exits B1-B4” in another direction.

                    Preferably, this specific information would be executed in such a way (background color, typefaces, etc.) that it would be clearly distinguishable from information about transfers, which also use letter designations. But that’s pretty basic information design.

                    • Brooklynite says:

                      As it stands currently, if a tourist doesn’t see an exit that says “42nd” they will have no choice but to exit at 41st and walk to 42nd, unless they decide to go hunting through the entire station for an exit that says “42nd” on it. If they’re not able to navigate from 41st to 42nd (with the help of a map, a phone, or simply knowing that 42>41>40) then they aren’t going to be able to navigate from the exit at 42nd to wherever they want to go.

                      It seems to me that the percentage of people who specifically identify exits, multiplied by the percentage of people who would get lost without such identification, is too small to bother.

                      The percentage of people who will memorize “A2” and run around the entire station following the signs for it is higher, however. Even if that’s ultimately the best exit (they aren’t heading to a place between two exits, for instance) it is definitely better from a crowd control perspective to get them above ground first, rather than have them congest narrow passageways and platforms.

                    • TimK says:

                      As it stands currently, if a tourist doesn’t see an exit that says “42nd” they will have no choice but to exit at 41st and walk to 42nd, unless they decide to go hunting through the entire station for an exit that says “42nd” on it. If they’re not able to navigate from 41st to 42nd (with the help of a map, a phone, or simply knowing that 42>41>40) then they aren’t going to be able to navigate from the exit at 42nd to wherever they want to go.
                      It seems to me that the percentage of people who specifically identify exits, multiplied by the percentage of people who would get lost without such identification, is too small to bother.
                      The percentage of people who will memorize “A2? and run around the entire station following the signs for it is higher, however. Even if that’s ultimately the best exit (they aren’t heading to a place between two exits, for instance) it is definitely better from a crowd control perspective to get them above ground first, rather than have them congest narrow passageways and platforms.

                      The fact that you’re talking about “hunting through the entire station” and “run[ning] around the entire station” testifies to the abysmal current state of signage in the subway. The whole point of having simple designations for exits is to help people who need them go directly to them, rather than having to “run around the entire station.” Can you seriously not see that? It’s not having good, easy-to-follow signage and terminology that causes people to “run around the entire station,” congesting it in the process. From a crowd-control perspective, it is definitely better to get them where they need to go as quickly and directly as possible.

                      I need hardly mention the extreme customer-hostility of an approach that basically says, “Just get the fuck out of the station and then wander around until you (hopefully) find what you’re looking for.” Oh, wait, I guess I just did.

                    • Brooklynite says:

                      Suppose we implement your system. I, a tourist, get off at the first car of a northbound 4/5/6 at Grand Central, and I want to use the exit at the west end of the shuttle platform (let’s assume that this is during the hours it’s open). I will see the sign for that exit and walk through the entire 4/5/6 mezzanine, then the entire passageway to the shuttle, then the entire length of the shuttle platforms, all the while dodging people who have trains to catch. After managing that and getting above ground, I will have to stop, orient myself, and proceed to my destination.

                      Under the present system, I would pick the closest exit I can see, get above-ground, then stop and decide which way to my destination is quickest. It may well be that even though this wasn’t the closest exit, I save time by exiting here rather than walking all the way across the station, exiting there, and then walking.

                      Space underground is very limited at busy stations, certainly more so than above ground. In terms of crowd control, it is therefore better to get the people who don’t need to be underground out, so they don’t get in the way of those people who actually have to catch a train.

                      Even if I were the only one using the station, knowing the closest exit does not mean that using it is the fastest way to my destination. When crowding concerns are added in, it seems that even with an optimal customer-friendly system of signage, having people navigate the street on their own (which they’ll have to do anyway) is best.

                      Here’s an example: Times Square station. IIRC the only exit actually in Times Square is the one by Track 4 of the shuttle. If you haven’t been there, it’s quite a narrow staircase, with only two high-gate turnstiles. Now imagine if every tourist reads in their guidebooks that that exit is closest to Times Square and swamps it?

                    • TimK says:

                      Suppose we implement your system. I, a tourist, get off at the first car of a northbound 4/5/6 at Grand Central, and I want to use the exit at the west end of the shuttle platform (let’s assume that this is during the hours it’s open). I will see the sign for that exit and walk through the entire 4/5/6 mezzanine, then the entire passageway to the shuttle, then the entire length of the shuttle platforms, all the while dodging people who have trains to catch. After managing that and getting above ground, I will have to stop, orient myself, and proceed to my destination.

                      The alternative is that you use the nearest exit, arrive upstairs, and have no idea which way to go to get to your destination. If you’ve used the nearest exit to your destination, you at least know, when you get upstairs, that you’re not far away. With your “system,” you simply have no idea.

                      Under the present system, I would pick the closest exit I can see, get above-ground, then stop and decide which way to my destination is quickest. It may well be that even though this wasn’t the closest exit, I save time by exiting here rather than walking all the way across the station, exiting there, and then walking.

                      Or it may well not be. It could go either way.

                      As for “decid[ing] which way to your destination is quickest,” given that the signage aboveground is much less helpful than the signage on the subway (poor as it is) and the environment underground is much simpler and easier to navigate, your method is much more likely to get people lost. I’m still trying to understand why that’s a good thing.

                      Space underground is very limited at busy stations, certainly more so than above ground.

                      That’s not clear to me, especially at locations with narrow sidewalks. Walking in the street is not a recommended option.

                      Even if I were the only one using the station, knowing the closest exit does not mean that using it is the fastest way to my destination. When crowding concerns are added in, it seems

                      to you

                      that even with an optimal customer-friendly system of signage, having people navigate the street on their own (which they’ll have to do anyway) is best.

                      Not everybody prioritizes speed over everything else, and getting lost is the biggest time-waster of all.

                      Here’s an example: Times Square station. IIRC the only exit actually in Times Square is the one by Track 4 of the shuttle. If you haven’t been there, it’s quite a narrow staircase, with only two high-gate turnstiles. Now imagine if every tourist reads in their guidebooks that that exit is closest to Times Square and swamps it?

                      Or imagine if guidebooks are actually written by people who know what they’re doing and how the city works, as they usually are. All of a sudden, the need (or perhaps the ability) to invent problems out of whole cloth evaporates.

                    • Brooklynite says:

                      The alternative is that you use the nearest exit, arrive upstairs, and have no idea which way to go to get to your destination. If you’ve used the nearest exit to your destination, you at least know, when you get upstairs, that you’re not far away. With your “system,” you simply have no idea.

                      Knowing that you’re “not far away” is somewhat useless if you’re unsure which way to go, unless you simply plan to wander the streets in circles until you stumble upon what you’re looking for. If someone can’t navigate the city they’re still going to need to stop, open a map, and figure out just where their destination is.

                      Or it may well not be. It could go either way.
                      As for “decid[ing] which way to your destination is quickest,” given that the signage aboveground is much less helpful than the signage on the subway (poor as it is) and the environment underground is much simpler and easier to navigate, your method is much more likely to get people lost. I’m still trying to understand why that’s a good thing.

                      See above. Telling someone that they are “at the closest exit to their destination” does not really help them find their destination unless they are already right there. In most areas using the closest exit is unlikely to save the person time (because the subways are aligned with the street grid) while it may waste time (if the destination is (on a perpendicular street that is) between two exits).

                      Not everybody prioritizes speed over everything else, and getting lost is the biggest time-waster of all.

                      Unless they just want to see the neighborhood, in which case they don’t need exit labeling, most people will want the most efficient way to walk to point B. And unless the exit is located directly at the destination, they will still have to navigate once they get above-ground.

                      Or imagine if guidebooks are actually written by people who know what they’re doing and how the city works, as they usually are. All of a sudden, the need (or perhaps the ability) to invent problems out of whole cloth evaporates.

                      Would the guidebook writers lie, and say that a different exit is closest? I doubt they would go into sufficient detail to state “use exit A3 but if it is crowded use exit B4” in the footnote-esque area that transportation info is usually found.

                      As a bit of a side note, stations are not big enough for choosing the wrong exit to be a significant navigational error. At worst someone will have to walk an avenue block above ground, as opposed to below. The whole idea of this labeling seems like a cumbersome solution looking for a problem.

                    • adirondacker12800 says:

                      How does knowing I’m at exit A1 help me find exit B4?

      • VLM says:

        1. Brevity is the soul of wit
        2. This is the most obnoxiously long comment for you to arrive at a conclusion that insults someone bringing up very valid points about the abysmal state of wayfinding in the subway system for those who don’t have an image of the map imprinted in their brains. Check yourself.

      • Brooklynite says:

        A few thoughts on what you said.

        A) “The history of NYC makes it great.”

        I’ve studied NYC (subway) history enough to know things like the origin of the name “West End Line.” However, a tourist SHOULD NOT NEED TO learn such things before being able to come and use our subway proficiently. Hell, even many long-term residents have no idea where or what “West End” is, and might even assume it means the 8th Avenue line, which would be a perfectly logical assumption! (because, you know, it’s on the west end of the city…) IMHO MTA needs to come to a decision with the line names – either to mark them clearly, in large font, on the maps or to stop using them in public communication altogether. The current approach leaves much to be desired.

        B) “There is no way to de-interline”

        Yes, there is. Full de-interlining, while possible, should not be the desired goal (IMO). However the current juggling of routes and having a train from each branch to each trunk negatively impact service reliability. (cue: “We are delayed because of train traffic ahead!”) There will always be some branching, but that’s not as much of an issue as repeated merging and diverging.

        C) “the leaving off the relevant avenue names and cross streets”

        Yes, the fact that six out of the seven stations with “23rd Street” in their name are on the same street is relevant, because that means they’re not all that far away (in Manhattan at least). Renaming all the stations to include their cross-streets would be quite a hassle. Including the line names, on the other hand, would be clear in all cases except Broadway above 42nd and Lex below there, and in each of those the real location of the station can be deduced with little difficulty.

        D) Re: de-interlining

        Yes, Roger did forget about the New Lots branch. However, sending all Lexington trains to Utica/New Lots and all 7th Avenue trains to Flatbush would increase capacity on both Manhattan IRT mainlines significantly, and arguably save time because people would get the first train instead of waiting for their particular one. (Yes, two new switches would need to be installed.) The genius idea of having 2, 3, and 5 trains all share a track significantly affects service. Similar untangling can be done elsewhere, such as on CPW (no capital work required!) and at Myrtle Junction in Brooklyn (Dekalb would need a rebuild to give 4 Av(Brooklyn) expresses and Brighton trains a cross-platform transfer to avoid making people walk between Atlantic and Pacific).

        E) “the subways were all not built at the same time”

        The subway is operated as a network. It is the MTA’s job that the tourist should not have to care about the various companies if they simply want to get from A to B. The NYC subway has a reputation of a dirty, delayed, and disorienting place. Having good signage is arguably the easiest place to start, and it will help attract tourists, who contribute to the city’s economy. Also, it might get some taxis off the roads if tourists take the train, reducing traffic!

        F) “Computer Based Train Control or Communications has NOTHING, NONE, ZIP, NADA to do with ‘interlining'”

        That’s incorrect. The problem with having CBTC on interlined track is the need for everything to be compatible, as well as for trains to be able to enter and leave CBTC track on the fly. While that’s arguably a good thing, it’s a technical hurdle that the first two CBTC installations here have failed to overcome. (Flushing and Canarsie CBTCs will both be incompatible with the eventually chosen standard.)

        G) “Boy, you do not know your transit history! ”

        He shouldn’t need to know the minutia of subway history to use the subway. The point is, the NYC subway is run as a network, and it should be treated like one. MTA (and their predecessors) have had 76 years to integrate the three systems.

        H) “The standard is that there is no standard.”

        As above, there should be an attempt to impose a standard. The uniform signage throughout the system (how all exit signs look the same, as do all station name signs) is part of this.

        I) “evidence that you really do not KNOW your New York City history”

        See G. History shouldn’t be relevant if I don’t want to or can’t learn it.

        • TimK says:

          ^^^All that.

        • Michael549 says:

          A) Knowing the history of the “West End” line is not the same as using the subways. Knowing that different subway lines takes one to different places is basic. Just because a station is labeled 23rd Street, or Kings Highway or DeKalb Avenue – one should not assume that similarly labeled stations represent the same places, or that those stations are “pretty close to each other”. Knowing cross streets and other references can be really helpful – basic geography.

          Why are there six “23 Street” stations in the subway system, and two “36 Street” stations on the same line. Those stations serve the riders on those transit lines, and those stations exist in different places on different transit lines, and often different boroughs.

          Saying one wants to go to “23rd Street” without any other identifying information is problematic – one could easily mean a place in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens. Having some sense of NYC geography, even the most basic is really helpful. New York City is not “just Manhattan”.

          The local neighborhood maps at subway station entrances have proved to be very helpful with information and resources to help folks find their way about the various areas of the city.

          B) Your response to my statement, “the subways were all not built at the same time.”

          Often questions about “why” concerning the subways can be answered by understanding a few basic facts about the subways.

          Roger’s idea was to have one train route per set of train tracks. I objected, saying that scheme is utterly un-workable given our already built and operating subway lines and their branch lines. His scheme would have made worse the transit trips of millions, and was in my view beyond being not necessary.

          This is not “minutia of subway history”. The NYC subway system was built on the idea that there would be branch lines, and that the trunk lines would from day 1 contain the trains from the various branches.

          The subways were all not built at the same time, and were not built by the same companies. The subways were often built and operated by different companies at different times, serving different needs – and over time were gathered into the Transit Authority, and with other transit operations joined later into the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Understanding that fact explains many of the “whys”.

          For example, why there are three major railroad terminals in Manhattan – Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal, and WTC-Hudson Terminal?

          C) “Computer Based Train Control or Communications has NOTHING, NONE, ZIP, NADA to do with ‘interlining’”

          I was responding to Roger’s suggestion where he equated the idea that “interlining” and CBTC means that only one set of tracks have one train route. Remember his “de-interlining” suggestions – with only one train route per set of tracks. He equated the two as necessary. That is what I objected to.

          Having and serving a main trunk line and the various branch lines in a transit system using computer based train control – communications has been done for decades. The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system from day one services its main trunk lines and branches with CBTC. There are other examples. The idea that only one train route can operate over a set of tracks under CBTC is an un-warranted idea. The fact that NYC started with CBTC on the L-train, and the #7 lines first, simply does not stop CBTC from being expanded over time to the other transit lines.

          Is is better to start building a transit system with CBTC? All things being equal – yeah, sure. However CBTC did not exist in 1900 when subway construction started. Converting an existing transit system to CBTC is going to take some time and lots of money. CBTC systems have done and can easily direct trains to, from and among the various branches lines and main trunk lines of a transit system!

          I was never talking about the compatibility of the train equipment – which is a given under any CBTC system.

          D) Station Names – and what to include or exclude from a subway map and other signage – has been a long running debate. There have been and continue to be arguments over how to represent and explain this complicated city called NYC.

          Sometimes subway stations have names that clearly indicate just where the main entrance of the station is located. Some times the station name represents the only entrance, with the “line name” helping to establish the geographic location – “The 8th Street stop on the Third Avenue line.” Sometimes only the only streets where the station had exits were used, Broadway-Lafayette Streets which under Houston Street, Broadway-Nassau Street which under Fulton Street, Kingston-Throop which is under Fulton Street, etc. Often those “streets” did not actually cross each other. Sometimes a station is named to distinguish it from another planned station – West 4th Street is a prime example since it does not have any entrances/exits actually on West 4th Street. When a street name changes – what do with a similarly named subway station has also been debated. Much too often on subway maps, and other signage helpful geographic identifying information is removed in a kind architectural minimalism.

          Separately, there’s was the idea in NYC to limit the amount of manned station entrances, to close entrances/exits for fiscal reasons, or sometimes to open entrances/exits due to newer fare collection equipment and reduced man power needs. Sometimes this resulted in re-naming stations to better reflect the open entrances/exits. Equipping stations with useful neighborhood maps and other help resources is a good.

          E) If I were to go to Boston and want to get around – my goal would be to learn and understand their transit system. Just because in Boston there’s a “green transit line” and in NYC there’s a “green transit line” does not mean that they have similar features, stations and serve similar locations.

          I would have to become familiar with the geography of Boston, at least on a basic level to learn about the locations in Boston that I would be traveling to. “When In Boston …”

          Mike

          • Brooklynite says:

            Yes, there is plenty of history behind the subways. If we want, we can go all the way back to the Native American tribe that gave Canarsie its name. However, while operationally that is still relevant (A Div vs B Div for one) that should not be important to the tourist who does not have the time or English language ability to find out. Hence my point about the West End line – on the map “West End Line” is written in such small font as to be almost completely unreadable. Hence, seeing “via West End” on the side of an N train doesn’t tell its riders anything, and they remain surprised, to this day, when the announcement is made at 36th (Brooklyn). This needs to be resolved, either by using the name “West End Line” conspicuously or dropping it altogether.

            Regarding the different station names – often people are given directions such as “take the R train to 36th Street.” That can be ambiguous, and IMHO different stations with identical names on the same route should be renamed. Regarding the issue of many different stations called “23rd St,” I suppose that because adding the avenue suffix to the end of every station would be rather cumbersome the only solution is to specify “Kings Highway B/Q station” or “23rd St 1 station.” Though the routes change every so often, and also every weekend, so that’s not a perfect system either. I suppose that’s more of a discussion of the ties between the subway and the city’s geography, since unlike in London, for instance, the routes follow streets almost exclusively. That’s likely why we have a semi-geographic subway map, although it could use a heck of a lot of improvement in its own right. (Kickmap, as well as a subway map I put together in inkscape, stay perfectly legible on an 8.5×11 paper.) A full rethink is necessary.

            Regarding interlining, it reduces delays and increases frequency because there is no more “delay because of train traffic ahead.” In many cases the penalty for passengers is no more than a cross-platform transfer. The effect it has on CBTC is that once one CBTC system is installed on a track with interlined services, the other tracks used by those services have to be compatible (likely the same). It’s not impossible, but it’s a hurdle to overcome. BART started with the tech so they didn’t have such problems.

            When I look at the subway map, unless I’ve bothered to analyze the legend and service guide in some detail I don’t necessarily know that the B doesn’t run on weekends, or that after SAS the N will only stop at 23rd Street on weekends and nights. That’s unlike almost every other subway system in the world, and the poor signage doesn’t help. Expecting tourists to understand it 100% off the bat is a mistake, as reasonable as it seems to us as natives.

            • Michael549 says:

              Please understand:

              You said:

              Regarding interlining … The effect it has on CBTC is that once one CBTC system is installed on a track with interlined services, the other tracks used by those services have to be compatible (likely the same). It’s not impossible, but it’s a hurdle to overcome. BART started with the tech so they didn’t have such problems.”

              Here’s my point – that’s fine and okay. It is a case of moving from one technology to another technology, and for a period of time both technologies will have to be in operation. That’s fine. We went from a system where subway tokens were the means to use the subways exclusively, to a system where both tokens and Metro-Cards could be used, to now where only Metro-Cards can be used to enter the subways. There was a period of change-over from one technology to another, even if the change over period could take a while, leaving some sections using the older technology for a longer period of time. Eventually all sections will then use the newer technology. The pacing of the change may be due to fiscal issues, technology issues, manpower or infrastructure issues. Eventually all sections will then use the newer technology. That’s fine and okay. In a nutshell that’s CBTC issues today. Again, all fine.

              All of the above was a completely different issue from what Roger indicated when he brought up CBTC. It was a kind of night and day comparison – two totally separate issues.

              Plenty of folks are using the words “interlining” to mean “straight-railing” creating train routes that involve as little as possible the switching of trains among various tracks. While using “de-interlining” to mean changing current train routes to have as less switching among tracks as much as possible. I believe that is what you mean.

              Roger in his proposal equated “interlining” to mean “only one set of tracks having one train route”. Roger used “interlining” to mean the cutting off of branch routes as much as possible – NO two routes (or more) on the same set of tracks. He proposed a set of train routes that eliminated as much of the through-running branch routes as possible – even when those branches served millions of riders daily. Roger also equated the idea that “interlining” (as he used the term) and CBTC to mean that only one set of tracks have one train route. That somehow CBTC simply can not ever handle two (or more) routes on the same set of tracks – ever!

              Again, I objected to that equation, and his arrangement of routes, and his notions of CBTC. I felt that certain realities of information or knowledge was missing. There is a difference between “best practices” and saying that something is “impossible”. In every profession there are arguments and debates about “best practices” and sometimes there are agreements over “best practices”. Saying that something is “impossible” is a different set of argument – that is a “fact issue”, not an interpretation of facts or an applying of facts or procedures issue. I felt that there were facts that he was lacking.

              Again, the idea of stream-lining subway routes to eliminate conflicts and ease train congestion is a very different topic and separate from Rogers’s idea of shutting down through-running branch routes where millions travel daily and making their trips harder. Our subways were built from day one to have and service the various main lines and branch lines. Arguing about how best to do that is an on-going debate because some junctions are flexible and other junctions that are not as flexible. (Now that may be the minutia of the subways – but it is helpful to know that stuff when making a proposal.)

              Bottom Line – what you’re talking with CBTC, deployment and train equipment, etc. is a completely different subject from what Roger was talking about. The same phrases are being used but with different meanings and different results.

              Mike

          • AMH says:

            “West 4th Street is a prime example since it does not have any entrances/exits actually on West 4th Street”

            W 4 St station does indeed have stairways at West 4th Street, but they were unfortunately closed up (along with many others throughout the system).

            And a note about CBTC–the next line to get it (after Flushing) will be Queens Blvd, which splits to three different trunk lines in Manhattan, so trains will have to inter-operate on dynamic and block signal territory.

            • Michael549 says:

              That’s fine and okay.

              It is a case of moving from one technology to another technology, and for a period of time both technologies will have to be in operation. That’s fine.

              We went from a system where subway tokens were the means to use the subways exclusively, to a system where both tokens and Metro-Cards could be used, to now where only Metro-Cards can be used to enter the subways. There was a period of change-over from one technology to another, even if the change over period could take a while, leaving some sections using the older technology for a longer period. Eventually all sections will then use the newer technology. The pacing of the change may be due to fiscal issues, technology issues, manpower or infrastructure issues. Eventually all sections will then use the newer technology. That’s fine and okay.

              Mike

    • tacony says:

      Why the focus on interlining? The lines that don’t have any interlining also have poor scheduled headways and suffer from issues which prevent trains from meeting those schedules. The fact that we can’t manage 25-30tph during the peak is less damning than the fact that we run such sparse headways during off-peak hours. No other “NYC-grade city” runs such poor off-peak headways, and we can’t even blame technological limits there.

      The “City that Never Sleeps” runs 12 minute headways on the 6 train on a Sunday evening. Why bother with technological upgrades if they don’t want to provide much service anyway?

      • Brooklynite says:

        Off-peak service is an easy fix. It needs to be done, don’t get me wrong. The fact that we have packed trains on 10-15 minute headways is pathetic. That said, crush time is still the peak hour, and operational discipline needs to be upgraded significantly. The Muscovites, for example, have been running 40tph with block signals, with crowding that would make our people run to evacuate the station for safety reasons. De-interlining will help once we can get our basic operational patterns right, but the 6 and L don’t inspire much confidence unfortunately.

    • Brooklynite says:

      You raise many good points. You’re right, the issue is complicated by NYC’s unique mixture of interlining, express/local, and part-time services.

      However, I disagree with your remedies. Interlining, in and of itself, does not have to be a recipe for a signage disaster. The Tube, for instance, has extensive interlining on its SSR (District, Circle, H&C, Met) but their signage standards are impeccable. I support the idea of de-interlining in some areas of the system, but not for signage purposes – it simply increases allows for higher frequency and reliability, while the non-duplicative nature of de-interlined services means fewer variations depending on time of week.

      I don’t understand the problem with lettered and numbered services coexisting. There’s plenty of history behind it, but all a tourist needs to know is that there is no distinction (from a user’s POV) between letters and numbers. That’s it. Making multi-character designations (the numbers would go over 20) is not worth it.

      Regarding exit numbering/lettering/ID-ing, I don’t see the purpose. Since these labels would be in addition to, not instead of, the streets where the exit leads they would just add clutter. “66th St & Amsterdam Av NW corner (wheelchair symbol)” is just as good as “66th St & Amsterdam Av NW corner, exit 3, (wheelchair symbol).” There is enough information on the signs as it is to be overloaded, without yet more.

      The duplicate names are a bit of a problem. Having six stations named 23rd St in Manhattan, plus one in Queens, is confusing. However, the only plausible solution I can think of would be to rename stations “23 St/8 Av” “23rd St/7 Av” and so on, which would just be additional clutter where there is plenty already. Furthermore, stations would need to renamed periodically as others opened – for instance, if the SAS eventually opens a station at 33rd Street the existing one on the 6 would need to be renamed “33rd St/Park Av South” even though it has nothing to do with the project aside from being nearby. I suppose the stations that are on different streets with the same name should have a clarifier of some sort, like “Broadway” which is a station on the N/Q, a different station on a different street on the G, a street under which the N/Q/R run in Manhattan (Broadway Express/Local) and a street over which the J/M/Z run in Brooklyn (though they are not signed Broadway). For instance, Broadway-Lafayette has a clarifier, although I think the entire complex should be renamed Bleeker/Lafayette Sts (a la Jay St Metrotech).

      IMHO the signage system needs a rethink from top to bottom, with the goal of making the signs as helpful as possible without necessarily dumbing down operations themselves. The MTA has a good start (many tourists on online forums say they figured out the subway fairly quickly) but they have some work to do. For instance, express vs local would be much clearer if each four-track trunk consisted of two parallel lines instead of one, the little column signs showing the route of all trains stopping at that platform need to be brought to the entire system, and there needs to be a map produced of all the weekend service changes. Not everyone can readily interpret a wall of text and figure out an alternate route in five minutes.

  7. Bolwerk says:

    Safety arguments are always neurotic, self-serving, and/or bizarre. Locked behind a booth, a station agent can do little to keep anyone safe. These people aren’t armed. They’re rarely physically fit. If they leave the booth, they’re nothing more than potential victims. They probably know that too, which is why they rarely ever leave the booth. Maybe they can call the cops, if they notice something happening, but even if they show up punctually the cops are not likely to arrive in time to help (if they even can help or have a mind to).

    I can see some limited utility in keeping manned token booths, maybe 24 hours in a few places, probably even rotated scheduled availability at minor stations. But hundreds of 24/7 manned stations just seems wasteful. Find other things for these people to do.

    • SEAN says:

      But hundreds of 24/7 manned stations just seems wasteful. Find other things for these people
      to do.

      In some cases yes, but in others station agents are essential regardless if they are in the booth or outside of it. I can think of several that would benefit… most stations in Midtown, Union Square, stations in lower Manhattan, 125th, Forest Hills, Jackson Heights, stations around Jamaica, Flushing, Atlantic Ave & Coney Island.

      • Brooklynite says:

        I suppose the argument is that if I arrive at a station, I should expect to find someone there to help me if I need it. Given the large maintenance costs of the infrastructure, station agents can’t cost all that much. And if some stations start losing station agents it could rightly be called a slippery slope.

        At the better-used stations, yes, there should be some agents out and about helping customers. At the lesser-used ones, perhaps agents and cleaners could have their roles combined.

        • Bolwerk says:

          What kind of logic is that? Station staffing is mostly on top of station maintenance, not a substitute for it. Maintenance should happen regardless; staffing should happen only if it can be justified based on the station’s circumstances.

          • Brooklynite says:

            My point is that if they’re spending all that money keeping the station up and running, they might as well spend a little bit more and have a human in it. As impractical as it may seem to have an agent at Beach 105th Street at 3am on a Sunday morning, it’s essentially a matter of principle more than anything. That’s why I’m suggesting that agents could do other things, like cleaning, during those times that there’s nobody to help.

            • Bolwerk says:

              But it’s not a little bit more. Not counting capital renewal, station maintenance is probably at most tens of thousands of dollars a year and then staffing each station for even two shifts on top of that is probably hundreds of thousands. That is a huge additional expense, and it comes at an enormous opportunity cost for other projects including at least some deferred capital work.

              I’m okay with selective, smart staffing. But at some point staffing less important stations is like staffing a busy bus stop: silly.

  8. John Doe says:

    Eliminate all of the station agent positions. With all the money saved we can maintain and expand the system. They are do nothing positions anyway.

    • Gina says:

      Your first consideration is money. Why, because you are jealous that you didn’t apply to get some? Or, maybe your criminal record won’t allow it…? They get paid to deal with geniuses, like you. Not to mention, who will you whine to, about the fact that your card is two pennies short, and you can’t afford the ride? Who will you ask to help you alert police, on drunken nights, when you fall asleep on the train, and get your wallet stolen?… Oh, I thought so… ;)..

    • Annie says:

      Do nothing position? Who helps you when your card doesn’t work? Who helps you when you have luggage or a large bag that can’t fit through the turnstiles? Who helps you when you need directions? Who helps you when the machines are out of order? I’ve never in my life when I hear of a company downsizing and laying off people said “good for them, they deserved it” I say “please let them get through this struggle”. Did you ever for a second think that these clerks have families? Bills? Mortgage? Did you ever stop to think that maybe these people are human just like you? We all have bad days. Did you ever think that maybe there’s something going on that’s weighing heavily on them? Did you ever try to show compassion? Empathy? A smile goes a long way in this city. Maybe if people would approach each other with an open mind there would be less conflict.

    • Joe says:

      I think agents would get more sympathy if they didn’t say with one breath that the government should fund their admittedly unnecessary job so that they can support their families and then with another breath sneering about the people they serve as welfare addict drunken criminals.

      To be honest, I wouldn’t think to ask a station agent for any of the things you mentioned. If I’m short money, I’ll go the machine. And now that you mention it, maybe the cost of station agents might be better used offering free fare cards for people who actually are too poor to afford to add two cents to their card. As for calling the police, surely a quicker and more effective way would be to have more panic buttons on the platform level that directly connect riders to the police.

  9. Maggie says:

    When I moved to New York I’d navigated subways in Moscow, Budapest, and Tokyo as a clueless English-speaking foreign tourist within the past months. I couldn’t believe how much more complicated and confusing it was to learn the NYC subways.

    End of Tom Friedman-style travelbrag; the subways are freaking crazy, and I can’t remember a station agent being helpful. I actually don’t mean this as a slam. They’re great when your metro card locks you out, or opening the security gate, or if you know the specific right question to ask, but if you’re the newbie who thinks you’re taking a train to Sunday brunch that in fact doesn’t run all weekend, it’s hard to figure that out without waiting half an hour for a train that never comes. You tend to learn through a series of failures. When you look at things like the MTA discouraging signage that shows where to stand on the platform to have the smoothest transfer, it seems that being customer-oriented and proactively helpful isn’t a key part of their current job. Please don’t get me wrong, I have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for the life-changing day-in, day-out essential service of the MTA. But still, the two things that changed my life involved being more self-reliant: 1- saving the pdf subway map onto my phone so I can refer to it all the time; and 2- learning to check this site for weekend closures.

    I guess I’m saying, if the MTA wants to reorient station agents to be more proactive and helpful, if done right I could see it working really well. Seems like a paradigm shift. Plenty of demand for it. I just wonder if it’s a bigger pivot than they realize.

    • Brooklynite says:

      MTA has customer service issues for sure, but the reluctance to post signs advising of the best place to transfer is actually beneficial in the long run. Think about it – if everyone sees those signs and then piles onto the same car, aiming to exit through the same door, the train will be sitting and waiting at the destination station while they all file out through that one door and then fit onto the staircase or whatever is there. It’s simply better to spread the people out, and that’s done by, among other things, not telling them where the exits are. Long-term commuters learn, of course, and the problems are already visible in some places today.

      • TimK says:

        Deliberately concealing information that is useful to customers is a remarkably poor approach to capacity problems.

        • Brooklynite says:

          It’s not the best for sure, but what alternatives are there really? Everyone piling out through one door will inevitably lead to delays; it already does in some places. Spreading people out is the best way to make use of the capacity you have, and because people won’t spread out if they are simply told to measures like this have to be employed.

          • TimK says:

            It’s not the best for sure, but what alternatives are there really? Everyone piling out through one door will inevitably lead to delays; it already does in some places.

            “Not the best”? More like “the worst.”

            I also note, in connection with our other discussion about labeling of exits, that this approach increases the amount of circulation when people reach their destinations, because they have to walk farther to reach the exits they want. (And people who know the system know which exit they want, no matter how much you think they should just use the nearest exit and then wing it. If people aren’t determined to use a specific exit, then there’s no reason not to tell them which cars are closest to those exits, right?)

            Spreading people out is the best way to make use of the capacity you have, and because people won’t spread out if they are simply told to measures like this have to be employed.

            So it’s better to not tell people not to spread themselves out than to just tell them to spread themselves out? How does that work? Why would people spread themselves out more if they were not told not to, as opposed to just being told to do so?

            • Brooklynite says:

              Yes, they have to walk farther in the station, but at least they have gotten off the train and allowed it to leave. If they keep the train in the station because everyone feels the need to exit via one door that obviously decreases capacity.

              Some people know the system, so they don’t care about such signs. Others don’t, and they will spread out and avoid overloading the single door closest to the exit.

              People don’t listen when they’re asked to do something like move down the platform. We can, but it’s not really going to help. Who would willingly walk away from a sign that says “board here for N/Q/R” if they need the N/Q/R?

  10. JJJ says:

    Forget London.

    Both MBTA and SEPTA went through or are going through kicking agents out of their booths phase due to a change in fare system. I would guess Chicago faced the same issue.

    On the flip side, tourist magent DC has agents in booths that are designed like the FBI headquarters.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Well, that’s good. I’m a weekly SEPTA user myself and still see them. Actually, sometimes stations have two manned booths, with only one arbitrarily making sales.

      Imagine if bus systems had to deal with these types of inefficiencies. It’d be crippling for them.

    • tacony says:

      I’ll believe it when I see it with regard to SEPTA. The SEPTA fare payment situation is definitely the most Kafkaesque in the country, if not the world. Their new payment system has been coming “soon” for years and is still not active. I have no faith it won’t be botched. Most station agents don’t sell tokens, most only accept exact change, and most stations don’t have token machines. The NYC subway is infinitely easier for a tourist to use. Barring a temporary outage, every station has Metrocard vending machines that accept both cash and credit, and has for years. Can you imagine tourists in New York being told to go upstairs and find a bodega to buy a roll of tokens because there’s no way to use a credit card or break a $20 to buy a fare in the station? SEPTA’s fare payment situation is ridiculous.

    • Nathanael says:

      MBTA in Boston is also implementing One Person Train Operation, quite effectively.

      Dunno why New York isn’t — union corruption, management laziness, whatever….

  11. pete says:

    Isn;t this the same red vest customer service agent stuff story from 2008-2009? First get the booth agents out of the booth, then a couple months later fire them for being redundant. How about laying off 75% of the MOW workers who do nothing but read newspapers on the clock, or now with cell service, stare in their phones?

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  12. Tom says:

    You people aren’t very bright are you? They had this program already. Don’t you remember the red booths? This is an MTA ruse. They used the program to close and remove booths and lay off staff in 2010-2011. Guess what. When you need that station agent you’ll scream “where are they?” when they may be helping someone in another part of the station, instead of having a central location where you can find them. Cleaning the station? Maybe if people weren’t such pigs and use the receptacles that are provided for you and five minutes after they do someone will come along and mess it up again. Graffiti? There is no graffiti compared to the past because the cleaners have been instructed to make it a priority to remove it every day. How are you going to get in the station when the 20 plus year old technology the MTA is using fails you…. Again? Tablets? What happens when criminals start targeting agents and stealing them? They will not be able to help you any if you drop something on the tracks any more than they can now. They are not allowed to go onto the tracks. Get robbed? They aren’t police officers. Oh and you won’t be able to find them because they will be at the opposite end of the station giving directions to someone else who just spent 15 mins themselves looking for the agent. This will not benefit the public and you will just get angry and blame the station agents for doing what you and the MTA wanted until you realize that it won’t work.

    • Kai B says:

      Good point about this program already having been tried out (around 2008 I think). That was my first thought when I saw this latest headline as well.

    • tacony says:

      Cleaning the station? Maybe if people weren’t such pigs and use the receptacles that are provided for you and five minutes after they do someone will come along and mess it up again.

      This is absolute nonsense. Subway stations should be regularly cleaned, period. The fact that you think it’s a cultural trait of New Yorkers to be dirty (which I think is wrong– ask people in most cities if they think their denizens are clean and they’ll say the same) does not excuse this. Whether there is any visible mess or not, the stations should be scrubbed down top-to-bottom every month, if not every week. They are clearly not. There are trails of “garbage juice” from where trash bags are dragged across the floor that basically only fade away from being stomped across by thousands of feet every day. If you put your finger on the wall and wipe, it turns black. This is evidence that routine cleaning is not done. Stop the excuses.

  13. Ed Unneland says:

    Ben asked awhile back about people’s experiences with the Help Point intercom. What was the consensus?

    I was in Grand Central Station one Sunday morning (downstairs from the terminal to put value on my MetroCard to get on an express bus to Staten Island to get to a funeral). I was mobbed by people needing directions. I answered as patiently as I could, but I only had a limited window before getting myself to to the stop outside the library for the once-an-hour bus. There are tourists at all hours. Perhaps more Help Point … with multi-lingual signage to say what it is. Perhaps robotics could be helpful like at Geneva Airport.

    • Brooklynite says:

      Someone needs to be on the other end to answer the Help Point. At that point it’s better to have the live human in the station, where he can point at a map or a sign if needed and, frankly, hear the tourist better.

  14. John doe says:

    These station agents don’t do anything but sit behind the partition eating wings. They sure didn’t help that poor woman getting assaulted in Greenpoint a few years back. Times have changed, we no longer use VCRs and bank tellers, adapt or fade away. These people should advance their skill set and try something new, welcome to the new economy.

    • Nathanael says:

      We do use bank tellers. Only way to do complicated transactions.

      They got rid of all the armor, plate glass, grates, and so on, however. Bank tellers are now at open desks.

  15. Janet says:

    I witnessed a white well dressed male yell at two black MTA employees on the A train. The man cursed at them because they were talking. Both employee’s explained they were headed home. The man said you lazy F*#$s.. screaming at the top of his lungs because train was delayed and they happen to be present. I saw a station agent get cursed at while selling metro cards in booth. The vending machines never work.. I had money taken four times this month. I was given an envelope but let in by clerk.. I think London and New York people are different. Too many mentally ill people in NY.. leave worker’s in booth.. NYC IS TOO DANGEROUS!!! Even the normal people are crazzzy. .. p.s. the vending machines never work! !!!!!!!

  16. BruceNY says:

    All this talk of de-interlining… I’d like to point out that the majority of subway lines in Tokyo (which carries a lot more pax. than NYCTA) interline with private regional railways–on both ends of their routes. It seems to work quite efficiently over there.

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