Over the past few months, Matt Flegenheimer of The Times has documented a few of what can charitably described as the MTA’s operating quirks. He wrote about the mad dash that happens between uptown express and local trains at 34th Street when an express Q faces off with a local N, and he profiled the way 6th Ave.-bound commuters at Essex/Delancey fill the staircase as they attempt to guess if the F will show up before the M or vice versa. A modern system, of course, would automate service announcements concerning these train operations, but the MTA isn’t there yet.
Today, Flegenheimer tracks down another operation quirk, this time concerning a privately-operated exit at the 5th Ave. station on 53rd St. The full story is here, and I’ll excerpt:
Beginning at 9 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays — as several signs on the platforms can attest — the station’s Madison Avenue exits are closed. But an interior gate often remained open about an hour longer, laying the trap that led riders to the escalator, the turnstiles, the gate and, after a few moments of deliberation, the decision: Jump the turnstile to seek another exit? Call for help? Or, for those without unlimited-ride MetroCards, spend a second fare, not to enter the subway system, but to escape it?
First, the explanation. The top level of the station is owned by private companies, whose personnel control the street-level gates. On two recent nights, the gates were closed at or around 9 p.m. The gate on the platform is operated by Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers, who say their shift schedules usually summon them to the station around 9:45 or 10. “I don’t know why they make the schedule like this,” one worker, Daniel Martinez, said as he locked the gate last Thursday evening. He began his evening at the station at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue at 9 p.m., he said, and needed to perform several errands there before walking toward Madison Avenue. “For those 30, 45 minutes,” Mr. Martinez said, “I’m saying to myself, ‘How many times have people gone up and come back down?’ ”
On that night, and another, 48 hours earlier, the answer was about 20. Some paused for minutes at the turnstiles, contemplating a moral calculus that, according to transit officials, appears to be unique to 53rd Street.Over the course of two weeknights, about half of the riders hurdled over or ducked under the turnstiles. Several cajoled fellow passengers, who had not yet left the subway system, to push the emergency gate open. And the rest swiped their MetroCards, though for some, like Ms. Lingley, the possession of an unlimited-ride card eased the pain.
The rest of the article concerns an examination into the ethics of turnstile-jumping. Even the MTA workers in this case urge riders trapped between a functioning turnstile and a locked exit to eschew another fare, but between the way the NYPD operates and the fact that many people using this station are tourists, the MTA has managed to capture some additional fares. Just jump.
Now, the MTA grew a bit defensive over this article last night, and Adam Lisberg stressed on Twitter last night that the problem had been addressed. But I wanted to know why it took a New York Times article to solve the issue. The reporting process for issues such as these isn’t transparent, and even with a streamlined website, it’s not immediately obvious how to report a problem.
I see this, though, as a problem that shouldn’t have arisen in the first place. When the MTA forges agreements with the companies that operate these station complexes, it should pay attention to work shift schedules and the reality of the situation. Somewhere along the way, the left hand of real estate stopped speaking with the right hand of worker operations, and as a result, some subway riders found a working fare control area with a locked exit on the other side. That’s nearly as bad as New Jersey Transit’s $100,000 fence.