Home Asides Inside a station without an agent

Inside a station without an agent

by Benjamin Kabak

As the MTA has engaged in a systematic elimination of station agents over the last few years, I’ve been skeptical of the impact fewer station agents would have on subway security. By and large, station agents can see only the fare-control areas and do not police platforms. Additionally, every station is still staffed at all times by at least one agent. Yet, an article in today’s Daily News shows, at least anecdotally, how fewer official personnel can have a negative impact on the straphanger experience.

Pete Donohue spent some time at the Kingsbridge Road station on the IND Concourse Line (B/D) in the Bronx and found how the MTA has “undermined that success” of the late-1980s/early-1990s security improvements. The station is dirty with liquor bottles and litter strewn about; fare evasion at the unstaffed entrance is rampant; and while robbery numbers are in line with system averages, riders say they’re concerned for their safety. “It definitely feels less safe,” Nicole Rivera said. “This is deserted.” One rider confessed to being “unnerved by the group of men who hang out near the empty booth at all hours.”

The remaining station agent, at the north end of the stop, has access to video monitors that show a nearby staircase but none that are trained upon the now-unmanned entrance. “I don’t know if anything is happening over there,” one booth worker said to the News. “If I don’t hear anything from anyone, I got to assume everything’s fine.” Much as feelings of security can drive transit ridership, so too can the illusion of an unsafe environment push those who are vulnerable away from the trains. Gene Russianoff summed it up best: “On a personal level, it doesn’t matter what the statistics say, it’s how the environment feels. If there’s no human presence, you’re more apt to be nervous. It can be creepy.” Maybe the station agents were more vital than I originally thought.

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Larry Littlefield November 15, 2010 - 11:49 am

“The station is dirty with liquor bottles and litter strewn about; fare evasion at the unstaffed entrance is rampant.”

Recall that NYCT wanted station agents to get out of the booths and move around the stations and do “light cleaning” once machines limited their ticket selling duties. The TWU turned that back in court.

Now I agree with the TWU that a single person who patrols the station has a different job than someone sitting in a booth, and it isn’t necessarily fair to tell a 52-year-old woman to get out and patrol in a more dangerous than average place in the middle of the night with no change in salary or expectations.

But the TWU’s position isn’t really fair to the rest of us, either. They have a person paid to do next to nothing in a booth, while the conditions you describe pile up elsewhere. Meanwhile, they take their paycheck and have a choice where to spend it, and would not pay for the rest of us to have a similar deal while providing similar conditions.

Paulp November 15, 2010 - 3:45 pm

What your post misses is that the prescence of the Station Agent prevented all those things you are seeing now on the station. Just ask any transit cop how valuable the station agents were. Farebeating is at an all-time high, vandalism and crime are spiking up. You reap what you sow.

“They have a person paid to do next to nothing in a booth”

Re-think that my man, the evidence is right in front of you.

Benjamin Kabak November 15, 2010 - 3:48 pm

Farebeating is at an all-time high, vandalism and crime are spiking up.

No, it’s not. Farebeating, vandalism and crime remain low, and as the statistics show, crime is on par with 2009 levels. It’s still the feeling of safety that’s under fire with the station agents gone, and that, in turn, might drive people away from transit. But the numbers themselves do not show an uptick in crime yet.

Sharon November 16, 2010 - 9:27 pm

“What your post misses is that the prescence of the Station Agent prevented all those things you are seeing now on the station”

Really what’s the proof. City wide things are dirtier and crime is up due to the economy. I have seen countless times agents turn a blind eye to fare beating either under a turnstyle or through a emergency gate. The issue at KingsBridge station is a police patrol issue and not a station agent issue.

The mta needs to roll out an integrated station security program. All fare controls should be monitored by live CCTV feeds and police patrols should be dispatched to problem areas. Fare beaters and people who litter, damage MVM’s and violate MTA rules should be apprehended.

The conditions described in the article are not system wide. Some stations need more attention than others. The Now 24/7 unmanned entrance at Sheepshead Bay Station on the Brighton B/Q has none of the above problems. It was unmanned for most of the day for years.
Other station such as 14th street Union Square and Stillwell Ave Coney Island need no agent at all as there are police stations in the station and many cleaners.

Lets all remember the agents only job is to sell a metrocard not to do anything else. The TWU has made sure that that is the case. Agents who spoke at the Brooklyn Hearing stated that they were willing to expand there roles.

“Farebeating is at an all-time high, vandalism and crime are spiking up. You reap what you sow. ”

Both were very high at some station even with the agents sitting right in front of the action. The answer is removing all agents in their current roles and using the money for increased security patrols and cleaning.

Eric November 15, 2010 - 12:00 pm

Tell this to the crazy-looking dude who was banging a 2-by-4 onto the release bar of the emergency exit at the Norman Ave exit of the northbound G at Nassau Ave Saturday evening in a vain attempt to open it from the outside.

No, really, tell him. I’m not doing it.

Sharon November 16, 2010 - 9:30 pm

What was the agent going to do about that. NOTHING AT ALL. IT is a police issue. CCTV monitored with a direct line the police patrols would have apprehended the man

Another issue is why we coddle mentally unstable homeless people at the expense of the safety of the general public. they have more rights than regular folks

Nathanael November 19, 2010 - 4:35 am

Well, we USED to put them in mental institutions, but Reagan removed the funding and dumped ’em all on the street… you have to be extra-specially mentally ill, or rich, to get into a mental institution these days.

Sigh. This country sucks.

Jason November 15, 2010 - 1:18 pm

NYPD has transit cops. These are men trained specifically to deal with problems like this. We now have empty booths (those that havent been removed) that could be retro-fitted for the officer’s needs. I say lets take some of the men stationed at times square and spread them out over the system. One officer, one mta employee per station that sees a certain amount of regular foot traffic.

I too see these problems on the 181 entrance on the IND and since losing that agent i have seen: 1.) uptick of homeless people now calling the turnstile area and assorted nooks around it their new home. 2.) said homeless/edp’s are enjoying smoking and drinking in the area with not a care in the world and as a result 3.) are now harassing not only my fiance on her way to work but im sure other attractive women as they pass by.

Again, spread out some of the personnel in the transit bureau to cover other stations, we simply don’t need such overkill at GCT and TS when the rest of the system is equally as vulnerable.

Paulp November 15, 2010 - 3:41 pm

Sometimes it takes the absence of something to see their true value. It is no surprise that these unmanned atations are now a haven for the homeless. When you take the agents away from there you get that. Similarly up ticks in farebeating, robberies and filth.
On this blog and others it has been said many times just how valuable the station agents where, but most of the bloggers pooh-poohed that. Which is their right. But their mistake.
Don’t worry it will only get worse.

Nathanael November 19, 2010 - 4:36 am

As commented above, thanks to the TWU, the station agents do absolutely nothing, and aren’t *allowed* to do anything, about those issues. Better to hire some police or cleaners. Or allow the station agents to walk around the station….

Alon Levy November 15, 2010 - 10:18 pm

It’s not a bad thing that there are more homeless people at the station. If they weren’t there, they wouldn’t magically be able to afford a home instead; they’d be out on the streets. In a city that deprioritizes building low-income housing, accepts massive increases in rents, and cuts funding to social workers and income support, you should expect a rise in homelessness. It’s as obvious as that in a city that cuts police funding the crime rate will rise.

BrooklynBus November 15, 2010 - 1:34 pm

What has happened to the police staffing levels since the NYPD took over? I thought it went down since the commissioner can assign officers where he sees fit inside the subway or in the street. Wasn’t that the purpose of takung control away from the MTA?

Edward November 16, 2010 - 1:43 pm

Every day there are 12 police officers standing in one spot at the Grand Central stop on the IRT with automatic guns and kevlar vests protecting us from…what, all those old ladies giving out Watchtower pamphlets? How about nine or ten of these cops take a ride up to the Bronx and police stations such as Kingsbridge?

I ride the subway every day and cannot remember the last time I saw a cop ride or walk thru a train, and almost no cops on platforms at all. The only thing I see is groups of 6-12 cops standing around RIGHT NEXT TO ONE ANOTHER talking and glaring at potential terrorists. It’s all show, no go as far as transit policing is concerned.

Even in the worst period of subway history in the ’70s and ’80s, you always saw a few cops during a typical day riding trains and policing platforms. So much for community policing and the broken windows theory. Guess that became old hat after Giuliani retired.

Sharon November 16, 2010 - 9:37 pm

I see far too often multiple NYPD officers hanging out together in groups .

“So much for community policing and the broken windows theory. Guess that became old hat after Giuliani retired.”

the broken window theory has gone out the window under Ray Kelly. His focus is on anti-terrorism. I have been noticing for the past 5-6 years that police have not been going after quality of life offense with the same vigor as under RUDY. A child that is now a teenager does not remember the the times when you could not throw a wrapper on the floor within sight of an officer or park on the sidewalk or walk through an emergency gate without getting a ticket or questioned. (it is illegal to walk through an emergency gate in both direction)

NYPD staffing is down plus officer assigned to Anti-Terrorism. This 4th of July some guy was lighting fireworks off in the middle of my block for 2 hours. Police cars drove by. NOTHING. Captains are more interested in not reporting minor crimes than enforcing the laws. Officers just follow the leader

Andrew D. Smith November 15, 2010 - 6:05 pm

I agree with those who think the solution is to eliminate the one remaining station agent from these stations and replace him or her with a roving MTA employee. I’d further say that this employee should be trained as three things: cop, janitor and information agent. There’s not enough work at any given station for people doing any one of these jobs 24/7, but it would be easy to justify a single person working hard at all three.

I do, of course, realize that trained cops would scream bloody murder at the idea of having to clean subway stations when not fighting crime, but close observation of patrolling cops (as opposed to those who investigate crimes that have been committed) shows that they actively fight crime less than 5 percent of the time (though they passively fight it by their presence all the time). Fortunately, they can passively fight crime while pushing a broom, and we simply cannot afford people who aren’t actively doing work whenever they’re paid to be working.

Andrew November 17, 2010 - 12:19 am

If you don’t want to use an unattended entrance, don’t use one. Every station has an agent somewhere. (I don’t think any of the stations in this part of the Bronx have separate northbound and southbound entrances.)

At least the option is there. Ten years ago, most secondary entrances were locked up when the agent was off-duty.

Tony November 17, 2010 - 3:37 pm

What most people fail to comprehend is that you were led to believe that all the station agents do is sell metrocards. Granted that is all that you see however there is way more responsibilities entailed. Station agents were and are a crime deterrent regardless of what the MTA would have you believe. I know this because I was one. 9 times out of 10 most farebeaters ask me if police were around and when I said yes they would leave. Also the subway crime statistics are on par with 2009? Are you aware that subway crime statistics have been tampered with for years because they only include felonies? Crime in the subway is an NYPD issue but the previous system wasnt perfect but better than the current one by miles. Also I hate to burst Antibes bubble but transit police aren’t the Saviors you think they are. They stay at their post for 20 minutes then go to sleep in the employee lounge. In fact a friend of mine was almost burned to death while in his booth while the officer on duty was asleep in the lounge. In short all of these grand plans for station security are good ideas but not possible with the agency’s and citys current economic state a more feasible idea would be to revert to the old system which actually worked.

Andrew November 18, 2010 - 7:15 am

So I assume you agree that this agent should be fired?



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