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Qns. pols demand MTA restore station agents

State Sen. Jose Peralta says that restored subway agents would be able to provide services for commuters, while providing for their families during tough economic times. Photo by Chris Engelhardt.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Elected officials and Transport Workers Union Local 100 representatives gathered in Astoria last week to demand the MTA restore station agents at subway booths who were removed throughout New York City in 2010.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who spearheaded the rally, joined members of TWU Local 100, along with City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), outside the Steinway Street-Broadway station in Astoria June 6 as part of a citywide day of action and petitioning to highlight the need for restoring station agents and booths across the city’s subway system.

According to Bramer, nearly 100 booths were eliminated across New York City’s transit system in 2010, reducing riders’ safety, security and ability to access the city’s subway system.

Each day, more than 5 million riders depend on the subway as a primary source of transportation, and many, including seniors, those with disabilities and families traveling with children, have been affected by the loss of station agents, who assist with reduced-fare MetroCards and access with security gates and act as an important source of security on train platforms.

“Our subway token booths and subway token booth workers are absolutely essential — they are the first and last line of defense in keeping New Yorkers safe,” said Van Bramer, who demanded that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority restore funding for booth workers. “I want to make sure Astorians are safe, that New Yorkers are safe. If a woman is attacked and needs help, we need workers to be there.”

Vallone echoed similar sentiments, calling on the MTA to act in the interest of commuters’ safety and security. “This is a public safety issue,” he said. “We need these people as our eyes and ears, and I’m happy to stand with them,” he said of TWU members.

Peralta said restoring station agents would benefit tourists, who would be able to get information directly from agents. Agents would also be able to provide services for commuters, while being able to support their families during tough economic times, he said.

“We want to make Queens into a destination — we need to ensure that tourism blossoms,” he explained. “The way to do that is to have clerks available so [tourists] can ask, ‘Where’s the best place to go? What train should I take?’”

In September 2012, however, the MTA announced it would be implementing Help Points in 102 subway stations as part of its current 2010-14 Capital Program.

Help Points, designed to be highly visible and easy to use, are digital, instant communication devices that offer customers on subway platforms immediate access to station booths and personnel at the Rail Control Center for information and in the event of an emergency — all with the touch of a button.

The plan calls for the installation of Help Points in all of the system’s 468 subway stations, replacing the Customer Assistance Intercom units currently in use.

MTA spokeswoman Deirdre Parker said that to date 25 Help Points have been placed at four stations, none of which are in Queens. She also said the MTA has at least one manned booth at each of its stations and has no plans to add booths.

“We will continue to work with the NYPD on strategies to reduce crime and are seeing dramatic results with an overall 20 percent reduction in crime from the previous year,” she said. “We are also in the process of installing Help Points intercoms at over 100 stations within the next 18 months. Each station will have approximately 10 Helps Points, allowing customers to easily and instantly ask for travel directions or report an emergency with the touch of a button.”

At the rally last week, when one reporter asked officials whether they thought the devices would be adequate, Van Bramer said he did not believe so.

“If someone is there, a human being, they will be in a position to help you immediately,” he said. “They are the heart and soul of the subway system.”

Costa Constantinides, a Democratic candidate for the 22nd Council District, who also attended the event, said public transit users deserve better service.

“There is a pervasive scarcity of booths and station agents that is unfairly felt most by the underrepresented in our communities,” he said. “Seniors, people with disabilities and children need to know they can count on the help of an agent at their local station.”

To learn more or join the campaign, visit transitforward.org/bringbackourbooths.

Reach reporter Chris Engelhardt by e-mail at cengelhardt@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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