Statement of the New York City Transit Riders Council
Before a public hearing on Proposed Subway Station Changes
July 13, 2010
I am William Henderson, Executive Director of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC). The NYCTRC was established by the State Legislature in 1981 to represent the riders of the NYC Transit system.
We are here tonight to discuss the wisdom of making permanent changes to stations, a number of which have in fact already been implemented. Station Customer Assistants in the vast majority of the locations being considered in this hearing have already been removed. While these changes may not be reversed, we would like to make clear our views.
We recognize that the process of selling fare media in the subway system has fundamentally changed and will continue to change with the introduction of new technology. As this evolution has taken place, the role of station agents has shifted as well. There are no more long lines of riders waiting to purchase tokens, but station agents still are critical to fulfill riders’ needs for information, assistance, and access to the station. Even as NYC Transit acted to make station operations conform to new ways that riders buy fares and use stations, we have always been assured that agents would not be removed from the stations until the systems needed to maintain critical services to riders were in place. While there may not be a nearby agent on duty, riders must be able to enter the paid area of a station with strollers, young children, or bulky packages, to ask a simple question, or to summon help in an emergency. In addition, riders must be able to feel secure in entering and using subway stations.
Station Customer Assistants were to have been freed from the station booths so that they could offer additional help in these areas, but they are now being eliminated. We were assured that the electronic systems providing for intercom communication between riders and remaining full time station booths and the service gates that are able to be released remotely would be there to fill the gap created when the agents were removed. Today, however, we see much of the intercom system that was planned for the subways is either not installed or not functioning. Also, many riders have complained that some of those intercom units that are in place and working are poorly located and difficult to find.
We believe that the best solution for riders is an actual human presence throughout our stations, and by this we mean not just a solitary station agent in a single booth. We recognize, however, that the MTA faces a difficult financial environment and the staffing levels that we would prefer may not be feasible. We will not, however accept the removal of station agents when alternative means to contact station personnel are not available. We were assured that station agents would not be removed until working intercom systems were available to provide human contact for riders; we expect the MTA and NYC Transit to live up to these assurances.