Categorized | Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime

MTA Pulls Ticket Agents from Subway Stations

Bars of steel cover this ticket desk in East Tremont

Bars of steel cover this ticket desk in East Tremont. Photo by Fred Dreier

by Fred Dreier

Inside the cavernous north entrance to the 174-175th Street subway station, an emergency-door alarm blares, a ticket machine is jammed and two men walk in and jump the barriers with ease. The station’s ticket booth, which used to house two station agents, is barred  and empty, blindly facing the turnstiles it once patrolled.

It’s a different scene at the south entrance to the station, which is not connected but serves the same B and D metro lines in the Morris Heights neighborhood. Customers queue up to functioning ticket machines. An MTA station agent, who asked to be identified only as “Joshua,” mans the booth and flips off the alarm when customers open the emergency door.

“If people see you, most of the time they are not going to jump over the barrier,” Joshua said.

The 174-175th Street stop is one of eight in the Bronx to lose its station agent in the latest round of cost cuts done by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. On Sept. 20, the MTA trimmed 99 of the positions — called Station Customer Assistants — from 86 stations spread throughout the city’s five boroughs. It was the first wave of slices in a long-range plan to replace 772 positions with automated ticket selling machines by the middle of 2010.

According to spokesman Charles Seaton, the MTA cut personnel from lesser-used stations. The 174-175th Street station had 1.5 million visits in 2008, making it the 285th busiest out of the city’s 421 stations. In contrast, the city’s busiest station, 42nd Street-Times Square, saw more than 60 million riders year.

“Station Customer Assistant jobs are being cut because they do not sell fares,” Seaton wrote in an email. “The integration into the system of high-entry turnstiles, MetroCard vending machines and express machines has actually increased station access.”

Seaton said the agents themselves would not lose their jobs, but would be reassigned to other MTA jobs. Station agent positions, Seaton said, will gradually be phased out over the coming years.

But replacing human beings with machines isn’t a step in the right direction, says Dave Katzman, a spokesman for the Transportation Worker’s Union Local-100. Katzman added that the plan will actually cost the MTA more money than it saves.

“If the kiosks are dismantled, there will be additional costs,” Katzman said. “Despite the claim to be savings driven, this approach is ideological.”

The MTA cuts come despite a recent subway fare increase and a $2.3 billion emergency bailout from the New York State government in May. But the MTA faces falling revenues and $26.8 billion in debt, and Seaton said the cuts are needed for the agency to simply balance its 2009 budget.

Not all customers are feeling safe with the new changes. Dave Cisneros is a part-time cameraman whose apartment building is 100 yards from the 174-175th Street station. Cisneros said he does not enter the station at night.

“It’s just a big empty corridor down there and you’re a sitting duck,” Cisneros said. “People get robbed around here; it happens. When you see someone inside the subway, you feel safer.”

Delia Madera, 19, said the station agents provide a basic level of support when the ticket machines break down or the turnstiles malfunction.

“I see it as more of an annoyance,” Madera said. “If I’m in a hurry, maybe I won’t take the subway.”

The loss of agents also affects how law enforcement patrols the subway. Sgt. Tim Casey works with the New York Police Department’s transit district, which is located inside the 161st Street-Yankee Stadium subway station. The precinct patrols the subway system in the Bronx with officers in uniform and plain clothes.

Casey called the station agents the “eyes and ears” for the transit cops.

“We have a huge problem of theft in the stations, with people swiping MetroCards,” Casey said. “When station agents are there it is down to a minimum because they shoo the thieves away.”

Casey said his precinct had not drawn up a strategy for operating without the agents at select subway stops, but said that they will be missed.

“The overall picture doesn’t look good, Casey said. “It’s going to rear its ugly little head later on. When you replace people with machines, it doesn’t always work.”

The agents also manage problems with the ticket machines. Joshua said that with the closure of the ticket booth at the north entrance, he now receives constant intercom calls from customers complaining about broken ticket machines or jammed turnstiles. He or a coworker must walk over to the other entrance to fix the problems.

His repair work only lasts for so long. After a few hours of traffic, he said, the south entrance is usually back to its dysfunctional state.

“It does not make sense,” Joshua said. “It is now the customer who is at risk.”

One Response to “MTA Pulls Ticket Agents from Subway Stations”

  1. avatar Janvetta Gaither says:

    I’m very saddened to hear that these changes are being made. We the residents of the Bronx have been getting cut for so long.. I’m surprised that we can still bleed. Robberies; rats and the horrific smells. Things that I’ve endured since I used the station as a junior high school student in 1988. However, my fellow residents have taken the walk with me and frequented the station throughout the years. With little if any police presence, the station was a scary place to be but knowing that the station clerk was there made me feel a bit safer. I said all of that to say this, New York is conforming into the new Manhattan. We must face the fact that this place we call home is not for us anymore. The rich are coming for the land of plenty and we must get ready to dig deeper into our pockets for less reciprocity.


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