Monday, May 23, 2005

Riders get 'marooned' in subway
Riders get 'marooned' in subway


Jessica and Declan O'Neill were racing to the airport when they learned the hard way the downside to yesterday's subway token booth shutdowns.

After Jessica's MetroCard jammed at the 16th St. entrance to the Union Square station, the couple looked for help.

But the nearby token booth was one of eight that closed yesterday as part of a plan to free clerks to become roving customer service agents in maroon blazers. Eventually, 160 booths that are now staffed part of the day will close under the controversial Transit Authority plan.

"It says I have to wait 18 minutes to swipe again," the 34-year-old woman told her husband, who had breezed ahead of her through the turnstile. "What are we supposed to do?"

Finding no one to help, she squeezed with another rider through the uprights about 4 p.m. A reporter waited 30 minutes, but never saw the station's roving agent. A TA spokesman did not return calls yesterday.

The booth closure plan does have its fans.

Veteran subway booth clerk Derek Pimble happily dashed around the Delancey St. station yesterday, eagerly helping an elderly man having trouble swiping a MetroCard. "When I'm out here, I can help the customers better," said Pimble, a 15-year employee. "That's why I took this job."

But some of what can be done in a token booth can't be done in a maroon vest.

Manhattan banker Laura Lindsey, 32, needed to refill her MetroCard. Because she'd used an employer-subsidized TransitCheck, she couldn't use the vending machine. Pimble sent her across the street to the full-service booth. "If they're really trying to make things more convenient, I'd rather have somebody who can help me," said Lindsey as she shlepped across Delancey St. in the rain.

Union leaders warned again yesterday that the absence of token booth clerks will lead to increased crime. "The criminals will watch as the roving station agents move around the platform and take advantage of an opportunity to commit a crime," TWU Secretary-Treasurer Ed Watts said.