Court rules hearings must come before booth closure

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An appeals court has barred the New York City Transit Authority from shutting down or curtailing operating hours of subway station token booths without first holding public hearings.

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

The five-judges of the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled unanimously on the matter, citing a state statute specifying that the public, in this case millions of straphangers, must first be consulted.

The order upheld a ruling last summer by State Supreme Court Justice Dianne Lebedeff in Manhattan, which also said the TA’s board must first take a vote on the matter. The appeals court agreed.

No date for the hearings has yet been set.

The Transit Authority said it planned to save $2 million through the changes, which the agency contended were appropriate because subway riders overwhelmingly have forsaken the token for the Metro-Card. The plan would involve 53 stations.

Transit activists hailed the court ruling with Transit Workers Union President Roger Toussaint calling it “a significant victory for the riders of the subway.”

The Transit Workers had headed a list of organizations and agencies that brought a lawsuit to block the token booth closings.

The Transit Authority had argued in court that no actual closing were planned, but the court rejected that premise, saying the floor-to-ceiling revolving door turnstiles which were be installed in some stations would prevent entry by the physically handicapped, persons with strollers and those carrying bulky objects.

“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,” Lebedeff wrote.

The Transit Authority had appealed Lebedeff's decision.

Those who objected to the closings testified in a hearing last summer before the City Council Transportation Committee, imploring the Transit Authority not to make the cuts.

Many people testified how token clerks had notified police or saved lives when crimes were committed in or near stations. A woman described how a man suspected or raping her in a subway station was chased down and held for police, who were notified by a token booth clerk.

Transit Authority President Lawrence Reuter told the hearing his agency had no intention of jeopardizing safety. He said any displaced clerks would become roving agents to help straphangers with vending MetroCard machines and keep watch for criminal activity.

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

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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