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.