Today’s news:

MTA required to hold token booth hearings

In a pronouncement that brought rejoicing from transit activists, a judge ruled Monday the Metropolitan Transportation Authority must hold public hearings before shutting down or reducing hours at subway station token booths.

State Supreme Court Justice Diane Lebedeff said state law required such hearings prior to closing or limiting access to the stations. Her ruling also said the matter should be decided by a vote of the full MTA board.

The law requires transit officials to announce hearings that would be held no sooner than a month after their announcement.

Under the MTA plan, eight token booths would be closed in Queens and hours at three booths in the borough would be reduced.

The judge rejected the MTA argument that replacing regular turnstiles in some stations with floor-to-ceiling revolving door style turnstiles would provide adequate access.

She said people with babies and strollers, those carrying large objects or the handicapped would not be able to get into the stations under such circumstances.

“To such persons, ‘access’ at a subway entrance only through a high turnstile is not access at all and constitutes an effective closing of that given entrance,” the judge wrote in her ruling.

As for the necessity for hearings, the judge said New York City had historically been used to public hearings in such cases.

“New York has a well-placed and profound respect for public hearings, specifically because interested individuals and organizations do often provide insights, perspectives and constructive suggestions which may not have been considered by the agency and its planners,” the judge wrote.

Deirdre Parker, a spokeswoman for the Transit Authority, said no decision had been made on whether to appeal the ruling.

Opponents of the closings, many represented among the more than 125 organizations and groups who filed suit against the TA, were exultant at the ruling. Some accused transit officials of arrogance.

“This ruling is a huge victory,” said state Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan).

“It’s a shame we had to sue transit officials, but in some cases, such a thing is necessary. We believe when the facts about safety issues involved in this come out, we will prevail.”

Lebedeff last week issued a temporary restraining order that halted the TA from starting the closings on Sunday, Aug. 26, until she issued her ruling on whether hearings were required.

Gene Russianoff, attorney for the transit watchdog agency Straphangers Campaign, said he was optimistic the MTA might take another look at the plan, which he said demonstrated “poor public relations.”

New York City Public Advocate Mark Green, who is a candidate for mayor, also praised the judge’s pronouncement.

“With this decision, straphangers have won an important round in the fight to make sure the MTA is accountable to them. I am proud to be a part of this case because the MTA shouldn’t — and won’t — decide the fate of riders without listening to them first.

“I am optimistic that at the end of this process the court will require the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to follow the ethic of ‘safety first,’” Green said.

Those seeking to stop the token booth shutdowns say their major objection is the clerks are a major factor subway riders’ safety in the stations and can summon help in case of crime or other emergency.

They also contend that removing the clerks would discriminate against the elderly, the handicapped and others who require help.

Witnesses testified in a June hearing before the City Council Transportation Committee that a human presence was imperative to the good order and safety of the environment of the subway stations.

Lawrence Reuter, president of the New York City Transit Authority, has said displaced token booth clerks would be reassigned as roving agents to help subway riders operate MetroCard machines and provide other assistance, while keeping a watch for criminal activity.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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