ACTIVIST Newsletter logo with ACTIVIST word displayed diagonally from bottom left to upper right
July 2005
MTA, Not Going Our Way – June 2005
How token booth closings will make the already daunting task of riding the subway even harder for disabled riders

by Michael A. Harris

Over one million people ride the New York City subway system on a daily basis, however many people with disabilities avoid the subways due to concerns over accessibility. Gaps between trains and platforms, elevator breakdowns and a lack of accessible stations serve as deterrents to potential riders. Now the Transit Authority has introduced yet another obstacle for disabled riders; the closing of token booths.

On May 22nd the New York City Transit Authority closed token booths at eight subway stations (including three at accessible stations); by the end of 2005, 81 booths will be shuttered and by the middle of 2006 that number will be up to 158. Transit Authority President Lawrence Reuter says that he would like to see all booths closed within the next two to three years. Rather than progressing towards greater subway accessibility, booth closings are demonstrative of regression on the part of the TA.

Token booth clerks are lifelines for riders with disabilities as they are often needed to buzz disabled riders in and out of stations. Additionally, elevator intercoms, used in emergency situations currently connect to token booths.

The loss of clerks will make the already daunting task of riding the subways even harder. Many disabled riders have been stuck trying to get out at the World Trade Center (E Subway Line), Canal Street (Southbound The Six Subway Line) and Church Avenue (Southbound The Two Subway Line & The Five Subway Line) stations, often for extended periods of time. None of those accessible stations have token booths.

Transit Authority spokesman Paul Fleuranges says that disabled riders will not be affected by the closures as none of the eight shuttered token booths are in locations where disabled riders in wheelchairs or scooters enter or leave the subways "We are very sensitive to their concerns, but at the same token, their concerns aren’t valid," he said. Disabled riders beg to differ.

Fleuranges ignores the fact that riders using wheelchairs or scooters are not the only disabled riders who need to use service gates. Riders who use service animals and some people who use walkers, crutches or other mobility aids are able to use stairs and frequently use non-accessible stations, but can’t enter through a regular turnstile and therefore must be buzzed through a service gate.

While none of the eight booths closed so far are at entrances that are accessible to riders in wheelchairs, the closings sets a dangerous precedent. It is a slippery slope, particularly with 150 additional closings already announced and plans in the works to close all booths; it is only a matter of time before they close those at accessible entrances. Upcoming closings at three accessible stations (Penn Station [The A Subway Line, C Subway Line, E Subway Line]; World Trade Center [E Subway Line]; Crown Heights – Utica Avenue [The Three Subway Line, The Four Subway Line] may have a direct impact on riders who use wheelchairs.

So how will service gates be opened to let disabled riders in and out once all booths are closed? According to Fleuranges, "If a customer can only use the service gate, but the agent is not in the fare control area, the customer can contact the full-time booth location by using the passenger intercom." He admits, however, that at the present time station agents can only open service gates from inside of token booths.

The problem with this is that such intercoms are not available at all stations. Furthermore, intercoms are technological devices and like all technological devices they frequently break down; station agents don’t.

Instead of sitting in the booths, station agents, now re-designated as Station Customer Assistants or SCAs wearing burgundy vests will roam the platforms and provide "personalized assistance to customers." Disabled riders should be concerned about the ability to locate an SCA when assistance is needed.

Riders who are blind or visually impaired depend on the token booth operators for information that is otherwise only available in the form of maps and posted notices that they can't read. At a recent meeting of the MTA’s New York City Transit Committee, Lynn Zelvin, a blind rider from Manhattan, asked, "What good is someone in a burgundy vest to a blind person?" The response: dead silence.

It is bad enough that less than 9% (50 out of 468) of stations are wheelchair accessible, but now the TA is taking actions that will diminish the ability of disabled riders to use those stations and that is simply inexcusable. We should be progressing toward greater accessibility; instead disabled riders are seeing regression.

Perhaps the MTA should change its slogan from "Going your way" to "Going the wrong way"?

When it comes to subway accessibility that is certainly the direction in which they are headed.

The author is Campaign Coordinator for the Disabled Riders Coalition.



Other concerns with regards to which the TA has declined comment include:



AUGUST 28TH, 2005 - PENN STATION (The A Subway Line, C Subway Line, E Subway Line)
Reason: There is no AutoGate (a system which allows riders with a special card to independently open a service gate) at this entrance nor is there an intercom. While the TA says that this is not an accessible entrance (due to a ramp that is slightly too long to meet ADA standards), it is practically accessible and infinitely more convenient than the “accessible entrance” designated by the TA.

January 29th, 2006 – World Trade Center (E Subway Line)
Church Street & Fulton Street (Booth # N094)
Reason: While this is booth is not at the accessible entrance, there is NO BOOTH at the accessible entrance. Thus the elimination of a 24-hour booth at this station should be cause for concern.

For more information or to request a complete list of upcoming booth closures, please E-mail or call 914-490-0518

- Michael A. Harris