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Apr
16

Byford to NYPD: ‘You cannot stop the service for 90 minutes for a fight’

Posted by: · Published in 2018 | Comments (35)

NYC Transit President Andy Byford last week urged the NYPD to prioritize moving trains.

A disputed seat becomes a fight between passengers becomes a crime scene becomes a 90-minute rush-hour delay to police activity. It all happens in the blink of an eye as it did last Thursday morning when a fight on an A train at High St. snarled rush hour service on both the 6th and 8th Avenue lines for 90 minutes. And now it’s touched off a bit of a war of words between new NYC Transit President Andy Byford and the NYPD over the right way for the cops to respond to subway disruptions so as not to snarl service for hundreds of thousands of riders.

The details regarding the incident on the A train at around 8:15 on Thursday morning are nearly inconsequential. Two people got into a fight over a seat on a crowded train, and a fight ensued which involved mace and reportedly some blood. The new combatants left the train and kept fighting on the platform at High Street, but cops held the Manhattan-bound A train in the station for 90 minutes. This led to MTA-acknowledged delays on the A, C, E and F trains and more crowded trains reported by riders along 6th Ave.

In the aftermath of the delay, Andy Byford diplomatically suggested that perhaps delaying service for 90 minutes isn’t quite the best way to handle it. Here is his full answer, via Dan Rivoli, in response to questions regarding whether the cops handled the situation appropriately:

“I need to look into it a bit more. The fact that it lasted so long would suggest to me – no. I very much appreciate what the police do. But we shouldn’t have been at a stand for that long so I’d say actually it’s between us and the police.

It should have been escalated certainly to my Chief Operating Officer’s level and ultimately to mine because I would have been all over that saying you have the train but you’re not having it there. We’ll give it to you, you could take it somewhere else but you cannot stop the service for 90 minutes for a fight.”

The cops of course responded graciously and with an acknowledgement that they would do better in the future. Oh wait no they didn’t. In anonymous comments to The Post, one law enforcement source was dismissive of Byford’s statement. “Where are you gonna move a train to if a police investigation is being conducted? Maybe Mr. Byford has a suggestion,” the source said. In milquetoast on-the-record comments to The Times on Friday, an assistant NYPD commissioner said the crime was “spread over a large area and needed to be handled with care” and that “safety of our subway system is a top priority.”

It’s indisputable that Byford is correct. The first priority, especially in a non-fatal situation, should be to get rush hour (or any-hour) trains moving as soon as possible, and a 90-minute delay in service for an investigation that led to one arrest on reckless endangerment charges is unacceptable. It’s also correct for Byford to engage in a dialogue with the NYPD on this approach to subway policing, as various MTA officials and spokespeople may clear on Thursday and Friday.

But it’s also notable and laudable that Byford even started to broach the topic in public and so directly, and it’s a good sign that he’s willing to advocate for keeping trains moving even in the face of an immovable object such as the NYPD. Keeping trains running smoothly at rush hour must be a top priority of both the MTA and NYPD, and I can’t recall an NYC Transit president willing to tackle this subject head-on. If that means addressing how police respond to incidents in the subway so that policing is more efficient and investigations conducted with an intent to move trains as soon as possible, that’s a good outcome for every straphanger and a good sign as Byford goes to bat for riders who have not often had a forceful, vocal ally leading the TA.

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