The Chief
March 11, 2005

PBA Takes Stand for Clerks

Opposes Token Booth Closings

By Ginger Adams Otis

Public safety advocates, elected officials and members of Transport Workers Local 100 gathered at City Hall March 3 to denounce New York City Transit’s plan to close 164 token booths over the course of the year.

Joining them was the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch, who told reporters that the presence of a booth clerk combined with patrol by police officers has been a “winning combination” for decades.

‘An Anchor for Riders’

“Booth clerks are the anchor that provides a sense of security in the massive subway system,” he said. “Riders rely on the human presence in the booth to get them help when they need it. Closing booths is bad for the subway and it’s bad for the city.

According to NYC Transit, Local 100’s contention that such closures would endanger the safety and security of riders and employees is a misrepresentation of the Station Customer Assistance Representative Program – which takes clerks out of booths and deploys them as roving agents around the stations and near turnstile entrances. NYC Transit implemented the changes last spring at 10 stations throughout the city and said the new program was well-received by both workers and the public.

Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman for the agency, said the program deploys about 600 clerks as roving agents, but they’ll still be present in stations.

“Station Customer Assistance Representation do not handle money nor do they have any access to cash,” he said. “Their primary responsibilities are to assist customers with MetroCard Vending Machines, offer travel directions, answer questions, assist customers with entrance to the system and perform some light maintenance of AFC equipment. These agents can communicate via radio with the 24-hour manned booth and Command Center.

City Council Member John Liu took NYC Transit to task for pinching pennies and brought up the death of Gorman Cabrera, 26, who was shot Feb. 20 on the IRT subway platform at West 18 th St. and Seventh Ave. Police and Emergency Medical Service responding to the scene were temporarily stymied by the fact that no clerk was present to buzz them and their equipment through the gate. They borrowed a MetroCard from a passenger.

Mr. Fleuranges pointed out that a button on the wall would have gotten the officers in touch with Command Center and through the gate if they’d known to push it. NYPD officials subsequently issued MetroCards to all officers.

“That’s great,” said Mr. Lynch, whose father was a transit worker. “But it’s after the fact. We need to stop things before they happen. We are talking about human lives, and at a time when the Police Department has been dangerously downsized, it’s even more dangerous to remove our second set of eyes and ears from the subway.”

Closed by October

Although the timeline has not been confirmed by NYC Transit officials, early projections are that 164 clerk token booths will be shut down by October, some in large hubs like Penn Station and Union Square.

TWU President Roger Toussaint cited the recent disclosure that the terrorist bombers who blew up Madrid’s Atocha train station in March 2004 had drawings and maps of Grand Central Station in their possession. “How many tragedies will it take for the MTA to realize that this is folly? The cost of waiting to see is too high,” he said. “Community groups and elected officials should set watch over their neighborhood booths before they vanish in the dark of the night.”

Jacqueline Allison, a clerk at Fulton St. in Manhattan, said being deployed as a roving agent raised fears for her own safety.

“I don’t want to be a target,” she fretted. Since roving agents won’t make change, she predicted lots of unhappy exchanges when customers got below ground and realized they needed a credit card, or didn’t have the right bill to use the automated machine, which gives a maximum of $6 in change.

Several clerks and station agents behind Ms. Allison nodded as she spoke. They chimed in that they worried about being too far away from the emergency alarm buttons at a crucial moment, and that delays in relaying calls for assistance would keep police from a timely arrival in help were needed.

“And I feel for the passengers,” said transit worker Nicolette Browne. “There’s a lot of elderly and disabled people, and riders with strollers who won’t be able to handle this like everybody else. It’s going to make things hard for them.