Millman Urges MTA to Abandon Cuts to Subway Station Personnel at Brooklyn Public Hearing

July 16, 2010
Brooklyn, NY—Assemblywoman Joan L. Millman testified at a public hearing in Brooklyn held by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) regarding proposed changes to subway station personnel. In her testimony to MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder and MTA Board Members, Millman explained the devastating effects of eliminating subway station personnel and offered solutions that would avert budget cuts. Her testimony follows:

July 14, 2010

Testimony Presented to:
Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Submitted By:
Joan L. Millman
Member of Assembly, 52nd Assembly District

Re: Proposed Subway Station Changes

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the MTA’s proposed service cuts. As the Assemblymember for the 52nd District, I represent Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, the Columbia Waterfront District, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill and Park Slope.

Before I begin, I have two complaints. The first is that if the MTA was not forced to hold these hearings, then they would not have happened. The second is that the MTA is holding two hearings tonight: one here in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx thus depriving both boroughs of the opportunity to be heard by the full board. In other words, the MTA is making it quite clear that these hearings are a sham and that the MTA does not care about its employees or the riding public.

How many of you even took public transportation to get here tonight?

Closing token booths and eliminating Station Customer Assistance (SCA) agents at some stations to save money is criminally negligent. They are the eyes and ears of our subway. Their mere presence is a deterrent against crime and potential acts of terrorism. They also save the MTA millions of dollars each year by preventing fare evasion.

In addition to all of that, they act as Ambassadors of the MTA and the City. SCA agents answer questions, provide directions, assist riders through the turnstiles, and monitor the cleanliness and conditions at their station. In order to encourage more people to use the city’s public transportation system, and discourage car travel, we need to ensure that riders have a safe and pleasant experience.

I want to talk about two of the stations in my district that are scheduled to lose their SCA agents. The first is at High Street, on the A & C line. The layout of the High Street station, with entrances separated by a significant distance, makes it particularly unsettling and potentially dangerous for passengers if there is not a vigilant agent present. In fact, residents of the surrounding community report that prior to the introduction of SCA agents, they often felt unsafe entering and exiting the station and waiting on the platform for trains; when an agent is present, the station is safer. At one of the entrances, near 175 Adams Street, Concord Village hires a security guard during the holidays to maintain a constant presence in the station to provide an extra measure of protection for its residents who use this entrance. Given its proximity to the Brooklyn Bridge and the beautiful waterfront park we now have there, this station welcomes a large number of tourists who often need assistance from the SCA agents.

Another station where SCA agents must remain is at Carroll Street. Carroll Street is a very busy station that will only get busier when Smith-9th Street is closed for renovation. It is critical for rider safety to have a Station Customer Assistance agent present there in the event of an emergency.

Is the MTA willing to put all of these people at risk, just to save a few dollars?

While we are in the midst of the worst recession this country has faced in over 75 years and the state must make difficult financial decisions, safe and affordable public transportation is an absolute necessity. We must look at every available option to sustain mass transit, including East River tolls, because a properly funded transit system provides intangible long-term benefits to the overall health and growth of our city. We must find a balanced approach which combines a reasonable amount of state funding with other funding sources.

I recognize that for too many years, the state has failed to increase funding to match increased operating expenses. We need to update funding levels if we want to guarantee the economic prosperity of our city and provide a dedicated funding stream.

However, before there are any more cuts or layoffs, the MTA needs to get its own financial house in order. In December of 2007, the MTA gave away $50 million in holiday and weekend discounts for riders. The MTA opted for a short-term, fiscally imprudent public relations scheme instead of saving that money to offset future budget shortfalls. They also have unused buildings that could have be sold or rented to generate much needed revenue. 370 Jay Street is a perfect example of a building which has been empty for years. What is the MTA doing with 370 Jay Street? Storing tokens?

In addition, during a recent upzoning of Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue corridor, the MTA neglected to negotiate any funding from developers to accommodate the increased ridership inhabiting many of the large, new developments in this neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the MTA’s financial mismanagement does not stop here. I am still stunned that the MTA sold the Atlantic Yards property for less than half its own appraised value of over $200 million. What did the MTA get in return for this sweetheart deal? Not enough! The MTA ought to be acting in the best interests of the public, not subsidizing deep-pocketed developers.

As someone who voted against the repeal of the commuter tax, I know we must look at every funding option. Suburbanites who work in New York City benefit from our transit system and are more likely to use the heavily-subsidized commuter rail lines. Those subsidies come at the expense of hardworking New Yorkers. The MTA has been shortchanging New Yorkers to benefit the suburban commuter rail lines for far too long.

Earlier this year, I introduced Assembly Bill 10345 which would transfer federal stimulus funds from the MTA’s capital budget to its operating budget. This measure would give the MTA sufficient funding to avoid many service cuts as well as layoffs. The federal government has agreed to this plan, but is waiting for a go-ahead from the MTA. I understand the MTA is reluctant to give up much-needed capital funds; however, given the MTA’s long track record of mismanaging capital projects, I’m sure transferring a small portion of stimulus funds to save jobs and our buses and subways would be a much better use of that money.

In January of last year, I introduced legislation to allow the City of New York to create and implement a residential permit parking system. Before we can install East River bridge tolls or resurrect a Congestion Pricing Proposal, the city will need residential permit parking. Most importantly, this bill designates that all fees collected from permits be allocated to support mass transit in New York City.

The MTA needs to do a better job of managing its finances before it looks to balance its books on the backs of hard-working New Yorkers.