By VALERIE KAUFMAN
It’s been just over two years since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority stopped taking parts from its express buses, relegating passengers to MetroCards or using MTA’s OMNY contactless payment system.
Now the MTA is set to withdraw not only money from metro stations, but also from agents – who typically help straphangers buy MetroCards, answer questions, or deal with issues – as well.
Except that authority could have a fight on its hands. State lawmakers joined with the transit workers union calling on the MTA to keep the officers and keep the money.
“Why remove the option (in cash)?” Asked Mike Smith, a regular commuter who was recently found waiting for the bus at West 236th Street.
“Sometimes your card doesn’t pass, so you go to an agent. Am I supposed not to go to work or skip the turnstile? “
The MTA has already given it a try in eliminating cash, in a way, thanks to COVID-19. At the height of the pandemic, the state agency shut down cash operations at several of the city’s more than 450 metro stations, as well as on its commuter train system. Once travel and people interacting with each other became more secure, cash and agents were restored. At least for the most part.
“After a year of record-low ridership, the MTA should make every effort to welcome riders back on board,” said Jay Cohen, director of the straphangers campaign for the New York Public Interest Research Group, in a statement. communicated.
At the height of the pandemic, the number of MTA passengers fell from 5.5 million passengers per day to just 2 million, the agency said – with much of those numbers coming towards the end of 2020, when passengers felt more comfortable returning to closed environments. Yet even now the MTA only manages 3.5 million runners, even in its best days.
For some, using the metro is not easy. Some morning commuters find it difficult to use MetroCard vending machines, that is, when they are working. Local stores sometimes sell from their own MetroCard stock, leaving much to depend on either using a bank card or smartphone with an OMNY screen, or paying in cash.
When these problems arise, station agents save the day, says Manhattan State Senator Brian Kavanagh.
“They provide public information and direction, especially when often confusing service changes are in effect,” the senator said in a statement. “They provide an extra layer of security to a system that often reminds us that if we see something, we have to say something.”
Station officers also help disabled passengers without navigating them across the platform, and can even answer questions from commuters who don’t speak much English or who are simply confused by the world’s largest public transport system.
If the MTA continues to eliminate these agents, it would come at a time when the pandemic has already cut many jobs in working-class communities, according to State Senator James Sanders Jr., who represents the greater region. Jamaican from Queens.
“I stand alongside the transit workers who have been at the forefront of making our city and our state work during this pandemic,” he said, “sometimes at the cost of their own lives and their lives. their health “.
The MTA says more than 150 of its employees have died from complications related to COVID-19.
Worse yet, it could further exacerbate transportation disparities between low-income and high-income communities.
“By eliminating station agents, the MTA is limiting access to public transportation for thousands of New Yorkers,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, “especially in low-income communities that depend on these cabins, since they may not have access to credit. card or cell phone to purchase their MetroCard.
The subway station at Broadway and West 231st Street already lacks a station agent. If the MTA’s transition to cashless sales goes into effect, commuters will need a debit or credit card to purchase a MetroCard at vending machines.
But is the MTA listening? May be.
State Senator Julia Salazar, who represents parts of Brooklyn that include Bushwick, says she hears “overwhelming support for the MTA to reverse its policies.”
The MTA, however, is simply saying “no decision has been made” and, in the meantime, continues to accept money almost anywhere it did before the pandemic.
“As we have said on several occasions, the MTA is evaluating options and communicating with our social partners to determine the best outcome for our clients,” the agency said in a statement.
Losing money on the New York City transit system is bad enough for Transit Workers Union Local 100 president Tony Utano. Finding that there are no more station guards could be a nightmare.
“Where do you go when someone is pushed onto the rails or a crime is committed?” Or does a person need to know where to go? Utano asked at a press conference on Aug. 10. “There is no one there.
“We need Congress, we need the Senate, we need people to step up and tell the MTA (to) give New Yorkers the customer service they need.”