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State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck), transportation employees and union officials urged the MTA at a news conference in Jamaica Estates last week to retain the hundreds of subway agents whose jobs are in danger of being cut.
Weprin and the others stressed that station agents are often the first line of defense when crimes are committed in the subway system and can ward off potential violence as well. Tareque Ahmed, for example, called the police when he saw a woman being attacked on the platform at the 36th Street station in Astoria July 4. Should employees like Ahmed no longer be working, Weprin said he worries the subways could become more dangerous for riders.
“The MTA will forever be known for abandoning Queens transit riders if it does not back off its plans to take out more station agents,” Weprin said at the F line subway station at the corner of Hillside Avenue and Midland Parkway in Jamaica Estates. “The removal of station agents, as Tareque Ahmed demonstrated in his act of heroism this past Independence Day, puts subway riders throughout New York City at risk.”
Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the MTA, said the subway system is, and will continue to be, safe for riders.
“Crime is at record lows in the system thanks to efforts by the NYPD, which responsible for subways, and we’ll work closely with the NYPD to ensure that our security decisions are aligned with their policing strategies,” Ortiz said. “We’ve always said it’s important to have eyes and ears in the subway, but those eyes and ears can be cleaners, construction workers, conductors and, most importantly, they can be our customers.”
About 250 token booth workers were recently laid off by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the authority has said it could fire another 200 clerks at about 40 booths throughout the city in an effort to fill an $800 million budget gap. Queens stations that could be affected by station agent layoffs would be one booth at Main Street in Flushing, one booth at Jamaica Parsons and one booth at Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street-Broadway in Jackson Heights.
Rushdi Huq, a station agent from Astoria, said the loss of these jobs could be devastating in a city that often relies on the token booth workers to aid everyone from crime victims to lost tourists.
“If Ahmed hadn’t been there, the assault could’ve turned deadly,” Huq said of the July 4 incident. “Because of us, along with police officers, we’re preventing crimes. We should not be sent home while terrorists are planning attacks.”
Vice President Mark Henry of the ATU Local 1056, the transit workers union, said the MTA not only needed to retain station agents but rescind service cuts to buses in Queens. The borough recently was hit hard by MTA service cuts and now-extinct Queens routes include the Q14, which covered Flushing and Whitestone; Q74, which traveled to Kew Gardens, Kew Gardens Hills and Queens College; Q75, which ran to Jamaica, Jamaica Estates, Fresh Meadows and Oakland Gardens; and Q89, which went from South Ozone Park to Jamaica. Several Queens express routes were also eliminated.
“Mass transportation, especially the buses, is truly necessary, especially in Queens,” Henry said. “People need to call the mayor to tell [MTA Chairman] Jay Walder to restore the funding and put Queens back on the map.”
Maurice Jenkins, vice president of the TWU Local 100 station division, called on the MTA for it to heed what he said were public wants.
“I’m hoping for once the MTA actually listens to the public,” he said.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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