Home Subway Security And now they’re gone: station agents

And now they’re gone: station agents

by Benjamin Kabak

StationAgent When I exited from the IND train at 40th and 6th Ave. on Friday afternoon, the sign shown at right greeted me. It was hanging on the former token booth located at the back entrance to this well-traveled station. While the 40th St. entrance is used mainly by people on the way to work, it is at the southwest corner of Bryant Park, and more than a few lost souls traverse its turnstiles.

Yesterday, though, as part of the MTA’s cost-cutting measures, the Station Customer Assistant assigned to this booth is no longer there. Straphangers can still enter at this southern end of the station with a MetroCard, and the MetroCard Vending Machines will still dispense cards (or eat your money). Those in need of help, however, will have to venture up to 42nd St. and 6th for a 24-hour station agent.

Throughout the city, I saw signs such as that one this weekend. At the 1st Ave. entrance to the F/V stop at 2nd Ave., a sign warned customers at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning about the lack of a station agent. Not every station enjoyed community support and outrage over these cuts as the F/G stop at Carroll St. (For a full list of the 86 station booths now without an agent, check out Comptroller Thompson’s search tool.)

With these cuts came a new round of articles from people on the street proclaiming the end of subway safety as we know it. Jeff Wilkins from the Daily News tracked down a few scared people. “I’m concerned for my safety,” Lunie Menard, a daily user of the Newkirk Ave. station, said. “If I’m down there by myself and someone’s working, at least I know there’s two of us. There’s safety in numbers. We need more people down there, not less.”

Bryan Walker expressed similar concerns at the A/C Utica Ave. stop in Bed-Stuy. “So I’ll have to phone someone at the other end of the station to let them know I’m being mugged,” he said. “That makes no sense.”

Walker’s and Menard’s statements hit upon the psychological aspects of the station agents. Generally, these agents are helpful when they can assist customers with MetroCard problems, stroller and wheelchair issues or directions. When crime comes into play, the agents aren’t required to assist and have made headlines in the past for doing nothing when straphangers are in trouble.

As news of the cuts has built over the last year, I’ve explored the ways in which the mere presence of the agents could act as a deterrent. For its part, the MTA has these safety concerns weren’t part of their financial equation. “Safety isn’t even a consideration,” Charles Seaton, and NYC Transit spokesperson, said. “Crime is down at stations across the city. The NYPD is doing a good job of patrolling them.”

For better or worse, we’ll find out who’s right. Crime might be down because the MTA placed eyes and ears in the stations. While these agents weren’t able to stop a crime in progress, the fact that they were there could have deterred numerous perps. With the MTA’s station agent cuts underway, if crime increases, we’ll know why.

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Michael C September 21, 2009 - 8:32 am

Can I just say I think its hilarious every time I read on this blog you refer to the divisions of the subway in this case IND. Seriously I haven’t heard that since I was a kid…in the 1970’s! I guess it was never replaced but you would be hard pressed to find one of our new Mid-Western born NY breed who actually knows what you are talking about. Excuse me I have to go catch the KK train from Metropolitan Ave to Christie St!

petey September 21, 2009 - 12:31 pm

“Can I just say I think its hilarious every time I read on this blog you refer to the divisions of the subway in this case IND.”
i noticed that too (don’t know about ‘hilarious’, but it’s noticable). i was raised with it, and actually it makes perfect sense. “we came (to yorkville from elmhurst) on the IND”, as my aunts used to do, is quite clear, so it’s not even always necessary to name the train by letter.

Andrew September 21, 2009 - 7:37 pm

The new General Manager program has five groups: IRT West, IRT East, IND, BMT, and IND/BMT. The old names are back, although they don’t mean quite what they used to.

Kai September 22, 2009 - 9:54 am

Those designations are also still used in documents by the MTA (eg. capital plans).

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines September 21, 2009 - 9:06 am

[…] Do Station Agents Make the Subway Safer? (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

Scott E September 21, 2009 - 10:08 am

The clerk is more than a deterrent – he/she is another set of eyes. The quote “So I’ll have to phone someone at the other end of the station to let them know I’m being mugged” put the whole concept in a different perspective for me.

I just wonder how long it will be before people stop resisting the urge to jump the turnstiles…

Tony September 21, 2009 - 10:51 am

The entrances where there isn’t a clerk which will be most of them will most likely have the turnstiles locked up so you have to use the HEEPs. What are the people that have strollers, bikes, packages, ect. supposed to do when the only clerk is across the street on the other side of the station?

Marc Shepherd September 21, 2009 - 11:11 am

What are they supposed to do? Write their state senator. What you’re seeing is the consequence of legislative neglect.

Derek September 21, 2009 - 12:08 pm

Maybe walk across the street to the fully manned entrance? People complain about fare increases, and then complain when efforts to cut costs are put in place. You can’t have it both ways. Even if the MTA has a history of poor management, you can’t criticize a measure that saves a fair amount of money for a relatively small inconvenience to a relatively small number of overall riders.

Tony September 21, 2009 - 12:39 pm

In the stations that I was talking about if you walk across the street to the manned booth you can’t get to the platform that you need. There are many stations like this where one side of the street is one direction and vice versa!

Andrew September 21, 2009 - 7:39 pm

I don’t think the “low” turnstiles are being locked up.

Alon Levy September 22, 2009 - 2:38 pm

What are the people that have strollers, bikes, packages, ect. supposed to do when the only clerk is across the street on the other side of the station?

Reflect on how for decades they didn’t care that the subway system was not wheelchair-accessible.

Julia September 21, 2009 - 2:13 pm

In the context of crime, station agents are “another set of eyes” (which is, yes, a deterrent) but no more than that. They don’t stop crimes in progress. You shouldn’t feel much safer with a station agent present.

The Vanishing M.T.A. Station Agent - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com September 21, 2009 - 11:30 am

[…] Metropolitan Transportation Authority is cutting back on station agents, which begs the question: Do the station agents actually make a station safer or more convenient? […]

Eric September 21, 2009 - 12:10 pm

The 95th Street Station of the R in Brooklyn used to have two station agents – one at the 93rd Street entrance and one at the 95th Street entrance – and lost one about EIGHT years ago. The world did not come to an end nor has there ever been a rash of crime in the area where the agent at 93rd used to be.

There has in the same time been a rash of muggings (over six years ago) on the platform that has multiple cleaners walking around ‘cleaning’ the subway as well as the Train Operators and Conductors…go figure…

SEAN September 21, 2009 - 3:01 pm

Where possible turn those areas into exit only to prevent such issues

ana September 21, 2009 - 3:18 pm

This is silly argument. I think in most cases these booth people just sit and do nothing. I live in astoria Queens and use the Broadway station. One attendant is soooo mean – all the time. Not to me, but to people that go and ask for help, elderly, she sees you with a stroller, never turns the alarm off on the gate when you enter after swiping the card, never has maps when you ask for a visitor, The recepticle for the used metrocards has been broken for weeks – you think she has notified someone at the MTA to have it fixed? So I don’t think they make hte stations safer, they should help people with kids, the elderly etc, but they don’t, so they don’t have my sympathy.

Tony September 21, 2009 - 6:31 pm

So you’re saying it is the clerks responsibility to have maps in the booth? NO it is supervisions job. You know that the clerk has NOT reported the broken receptacle? How do you know this? Clerks are NOT supposed to turn off the alarm by managments rules!

Andrew September 21, 2009 - 7:40 pm

Not even for a minute, to allow someone with large packages or a stroller (or a wheelchair!) to enter or exit?

I find that very hard to believe.

Andrew September 21, 2009 - 8:00 pm

The title is misleading: station agents not gone. Every station still has at least one.

Some stations never had more than one. And I doubt any stations have, or had, so many that the entire platform was under full-time surveillance. At many stations, the agent can’t see any part of the platform!

The MTA didn’t place “eyes and ears” at the stations. The MTA and its predecessors placed people to sell fare media. That’s mostly done by machine now. The “eyes and ears” bit is just the fearmongering the station agents started using when they realized that their job was in jeopardy. Station agents are not and have never been security guards. They don’t have the training or the equipment that security guards need. Have past booth closures resulted in increased crime?

The Carroll St. issue was due to the temporary closure of the staffed entrance.

Would you prefer the cost savings to come through actual service cuts? I’d rather pay people to operate trains and buses than to sit in booths and do virtually nothing.

Sharon Silver September 24, 2009 - 9:47 pm

This idea that station agents are the eyes and ears of the anything is a complete joke trumped up by the union ans the politicians they pay off with the union big campaign contribution war chest. Back in the early 1990’s when the average rider bought two tokens at at time the union and the straphangers campaign union shill organization were all over the local news saying how metrocard was going to lead to peoplegetting robbed as they took the cards out of their wallets. The real issue is that they knew that metrocard would reduce the need for hundreds of station agent(fare sellers) and it did. Look at most booths at major stations that are double wide.

Sharon Silver September 24, 2009 - 9:52 pm

The MTA needs to stand up to the unions and remove the dedicated door operators from the trains. The CONDUCTORS are no longer needs now that the new subway cars have controls and monitors are available for the train driver to also monitor the door operations. The same “eyes and ears” argument that is used to create fear in the public is being used. Conductors cost riders between $650-$700 million a year for a job function that is not needed. I’d rather see the money saved used to hire security guard rules enforcers to patrol stations and trains and issue tickets for littering, report station and train conditions hourly. We can not keep soaking the risers and tax payers and continue to support job fuctions that are not needed

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