Representatives from the city’s Transport Workers Union say that the solutions to reducing subway deaths are simple, but the MTA doesn’t want to spend the money.
At yesterday’s emergency hearing on subway deaths called by city councilman James Vacca, the MTA unveiled a large-scale public education campaign to combat platform-edge related deaths at subway stations. The heinous December platform murders of Sunando Sen at a station in Sunnyside, Queens and Ki-Suk Han in Times Square brought increased awareness to an even larger issue.
The campaign is aimed at reducing the number of deaths, 54, which occurred last year as a result of riders being killed by trains.
The MTA says it recognizes the crisis at hand, and will focus its campaign around getting people to stand back from platform edges and to stop jumping on tracks to retrieve lost items–through increased signage, frequent announcements, various forms of media, the back of MetroCards and MetroCard Machines. The agency will also escalate its roll-out of help-point devices in stations, which straphangers will be able to use for service information and emergencies.
“It’s just outrageous that [the MTA] just came [here] and told you in some many technical words and with a wonderful presentation, ‘we [aren’t] doing anything,'” Kevin Harrington, a 28-year veteran train-operator, said at the hearing.
TWU says the only real solutions to reducing the numbers of deaths are to slow trains down and hire more agents to monitor stations. The MTA contends that slowing down the trains will only exacerbate the issue.
“When you begin to slow the system down, the unintended consequences are far greater than what you’re trying to resolve,” Carmen Bianco, Senior Vice President for MTA Subways, said. “In other words, if the trains are crowding, if people can’t get on the trains, if the platforms are overcrowded, that creates a much greater safety issue…for our customers.”
Bianco says that slowing the trains down to the TWU’s suggested 10 mph speed limit will decrease track capacity by 20 percent, produce train shortages, longer commutes and more platform crowding.
“The issue of overcrowding on the platform [is] not linked to train speeds. It’s linked to head-way between the trains,” John Samuelsen, president of TWU Local 100, said. “The slowing of the train down to 10 mph, on to itself does not overcrowd a platform.”
Samuelsen said the MTA wouldn’t have a train shortage problem if it were willing to just put more trains in service, and contends that the MTA holds 150-200 trains back from running each day. But, increasing the number of trains that run, much like adding more agents to the stations, is something that the TWU says the MTA is too cheap to do.
For an agency that’s suffering from a reported $2 billion budget deficit, it sounds logical to make economic considerations when constructing a plan of action to address the issue.
“The question for the [MTA] is, do we add service [and] stop the daily game of Russian Roulette with folks getting killed on the platforms or do we add capacity to stop the deaths,” Samuelsen said. “That’s an economic choice on their part.”
City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin was pleased with the MTA’s pubic campaign, but expressed concern that it will do little to prevent incidents that occur due to mental illness or crime. Last year, there were 33 suicide-related incidents, three fight-related pushing deaths, and the two highly-publicized homicides .
“I was happy to hear about the help-points plan and the public education campaign, although honestly, I think for somebody who’s suffering from mental illness or who’s committing a hate crime. I don’t think the public education campaign is going to change things.” Lappin said. “Why aren’t you putting more boots on the ground, more workers who can help be both eyes and ears to prevent tragedy and also be a helping hand in the event that there is one?”
A question to which Bianco answered:
“It simply comes down to–it’s not feasible within our budget to do that right now. As we look at the operating budget, we just don’t have the ability to do that right now.”
An answer to which Lappin responded:
“I understand that’s a reality, but I guess for me, it’s not the right answer. It’s something that will save lives right away.”
Harrington argued that subway goers are going to tune out the announcements and posters from the MTA’s campaign, and that it will do little to change the reality that three people are getting hit by trains, on average, each week.
“I’d like to point a out a statistic, more people are killed in New York State by New York City trains than are killed in New York State by assault rifles. The governor is taking great actions to ban assault rifles…Something has to be done now,” Harrington said. “They aren’t going to save anybody. They walked out here with no plan to keep anybody from dying this week, next week, or next year.”