Axed as Part of MTA’s Cuts In Services
As part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) proposals to dig itself out of a gaping budget hole, officials are closing the Floral Park and New Hyde Park Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) ticket booths, two of 20 booths slated for closure across Long Island, it was announced last week.
Residents became aware of the possible closures months ago through Assemblyman Tom Alfano’s petition drive to stop it. Resident opposition, however, may be falling on deaf ears.
“The decision by the MTA sadly follows a pattern of disregard for the Village of Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Stewart Manor and Bellerose Village for decades,” Assemblyman Alfano said.
Hundreds of local residents joined Alfano in writing letters and sending emails to the MTA demanding the ticket offices remain open.
“They were ignored by the MTA. Even after a bailout, increased fares and new user fees, the MTA still can’t provide a quality service to the people. It’s a disgrace. I don’t understand how the MTA could do this while at the same time encouraging people to take the train or bus as a means of transport. How do people get information? How do they get quality service that will assist them from going from point A to point B? The answer is the MTA doesn’t care. Their motto is simply increase fares, cut services and ask for more. I’m sick and tired of the MTA using us as an ATM,” Assemblyman Alfano said.
Assemblyman Alfano said LIRR officials gave him “a heads up” late last year. He called the news “outrageous and completely unacceptable,” adding that the closures will have devastating consequences to customer service, care and information to railroad passengers.
The closures will force railroad passengers to buy their tickets from automated machines outside of the stations. Schedule posters in display cases outside the station will replace information specialists, a long honored LIRR tradition, Assemblyman Alfano added.
Floral Park is one of nearly two-dozen stations slated for closure in the coming months as part of the MTA’s reduced spending plan. Local officials argue that the Floral Park train station is one of the most heavily used in the entire LIRR system.
“The Floral Park station ticket office not only dispenses tickets and information, but it is a critical part of the service end of the station,” Assemblyman Alfano said when first hearing the news. “This station is packed every day and this cut is incredibly shortsighted.”
Last January, Long Islanders came out in droves to slam the MTA’s proposals to fix its mounting budget woes. Proposed fare and toll increases were slated to yield a 23 percent increase at first.
But at the eleventh hour, the MTA got the government bailout it was looking for. Commuters will still get hit with fare increases come June 17 but not as much as originally proposed. Further, the bailout plan calls for a payroll tax that would virtually affect every business, service or municipal employer in the counties serviced by the MTA.
MTA officials have remained steadfast in their argument that raising fares and cutting services are the only two remaining means within their control to close a $1.2 million shortfall.
Ticket agents however stand united against the closures. Anthony Simon, a Transportation Communications Union (TCU) representative, said that the turning over of manned ticket booths to automated machines would take away the eyes and the ears of the MTA.
“The outrageous decision to close ticket offices will have a devastating effect on the lives of our brother and sister ticket agents … Closing ticket offices removes the face-to-face interaction with our customers, it poses significant safety concerns in that there will no longer be a live person to aid in the event of an emergency,” Simon said at the January 2008 MTA hearing.
The TCU’s general chair, who represents the ticket clerks and agents along the Long Island Rail Road, added, “They’re taking away the front line employees while only eliminating one manager’s job, which was recently created and never filled. Let’s look at 1996. You had 97 manned stations and 12 managers running them. After these cuts we’ll have only 30 manned stations and 25 managers…”
Floral Park Trustee Tom Tweedy, who also spoke out at the January 2008 MTA hearing at The Garden City Hotel, noted that the transit authority has over 6,000 employees, yet only a few thousand of these public servants have positions that actually serve the public. “Among the top of that list are ticket office personnel. They should be among the last positions eliminated, instead of the first,” Tweedy said.
Floral Park’s station serves not only Floral Park and its 16,000 residents but also commuters from the villages of South Floral Park and Bellerose and those living along the Nassau County border of Queens and beyond. Floral Park is actually the last manned station on the Hempstead line.
Senator Craig Johnson believes removing personnel from Floral Park and New Hyde Park based on “empirical data” fails to take into account the human issues surrounding this cut. “A number of my constituents use these stations, some of them older and less familiar with automated machines; machines which cannot respond to inquiries or provide anything beyond basic assistance. There are also safety issues at stake,” the senator said.