2003-01-29 / Editorials

Token Booth Closings No Answer To MTA $ Woes

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's proposal to close 177 full- and part-time token booths as a cost-cutting measure is both ill-advised and extremely detrimental to the quality of life in New York City.

Of the 177 stations, 16 are located in high crime areas, according to police. Four of those 16 are in Queens, all on the E line—Parsons Avenue/Jamaica Center, Union Turnpike, Kew Gardens, 71st/Continental Avenue, Forest Hills, and 74th Street—Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights. The nature of the crimes committed at these four stations is not known to us, but even with subway crime at its lowest level since the 1960s, assaults throughout the subway system rose by more than 13 percent in 2002 and robberies escalated by approximately 4 percent. Plainly, this makes a case for keeping booths open, manned and with access to a system guaranteeing swift and easy connection to the city's 911 emergency hotline.

Some stations, despite the closings, will have at least one booth open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In too many situations, this is scant comfort. A part-time booth at the Union Turnpike stop, for example, is slated to close. It is 550 feet away from a token booth manned around the clock—too far for a clerk to come to the aid of a passenger who has been shot, stabbed or suddenly taken ill in time to do any good.

Last year a plan was put forth by the MTA to make clerks whose token booths had been closed into roving platform attendants. Clerks who faced such a change in their job descriptions were, to the best of our knowledge, unanimous in their disapproval. Not only would they be as vulnerable as the people they could best assist from the safety of their token booths, they would have their effectiveness far more limited by their being away from their telephone links to 911 and other authorities. So far on this go-round we have heard no word from the MTA as to its plans for the token booth clerks who will be forced out of their booths and their jobs by the proposal, but if the idea has once again crossed one or several minds at MTA headquarters, it should be dropped. Token booth clerks do much good for the public they serve in the course of performing their duties, but the roles of beat cop and EMS worker are not and should not be part of their job descriptions.

Token booth clerks merely by their presence are a force for civic safety. We noted on a previous occasion that the intersection of Broadway and Northern Boulevard has been the scene of numerous accidents. Clerks in the token booth at the Northern Boulevard subway stop on the R, V and G line on more than one occasion have summoned police and ambulances to the scene when they learned that an accident had occurred on the street above the station. Even some miscreants have been known to rein in their impulses for wrongdoing when they see a clerk on duty in a token booth. They know that police are a phone call away.

The exact amount of the MTA deficit is unknown to us, although several watchdog agencies, among them the city Independent Budget Office, have disputed the $2.2 billion put forth by the authority. Be that as it may, the fact remains that yes, the MTA has a budget gap which it needs to close. Closing that gap should not come at the expense of the safety and well being of both subway passengers and token booth clerks. Closing the booths, especially those in areas the New York City Police Department's Operation Impact has designated as being high crime, will do nothing to reduce crime, improve service or save money. The safety of passengers and employees must come first.

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