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Rep. Weiner calls closing MTA token booths unsafe

Members of Community Board 6 and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) have opposed the Metropolitan Transit Authority's recent proposal to shut down 177 token booths throughout the city, six of which are in CB 6's coverage area in Forest Hills, Rego Park and Kew Gardens.

"As every straphanger who's fought the crush of rush hour knows, the added convenience of extra token booths can mean a lot," Weiner said in a statement on Jan. 21. "But even more important, the extra eyes and ears that toll booth clerks provide, especially late at night in some of our bigger stations, cannot be underestimated. The crimes their presence prevents is worth far more than any token savings shutting down token booths may provide."

The Daily News reported that of the subway stations slated to lose full- or part-time token booths, 16 are on the New York Police Department's list of crime hot spots, including the Union Turnpike and 71st Avenue stations.

Other Forest Hills and Rego Park token booths slated to be shut down include the part-time booths at Woodhaven Boulevard, 63rd Drive and 67th Avenue subway stations. Two part-time token booths are scheduled to be closed at the 71st Avenue station.

According to the MTA, token booth closings would begin in July and finish by the end of the year. At least one full-time token booth will remain open at all subway stations throughout the city.

While a transit authority official said he believed the NYPD could police the subway stations to provide customers with the "secure environment" they were used to, Joseph Hennessy, chairman of Community Board 6, told a meeting of the group he did not believe that existing police could make up for the presence of token booth operators.

"The transit police are already overworked, and they're not going to put a police officer at every station where a token booth is going to be closed," Hennessy said. "People shouldn't have to walk in this type of weather to another entrance where they feel safer."

In addition to safety issues, the lack of a token booth operator would also be difficult for people pushing baby carriages or carrying packages who need the metal gates opened, handicapped people, people in search of directions and people whose MetroCards fail to work, added Steven Goldberg, the chairman of CB 6's transportation committee.

Goldberg said he planned to write a letter to the MTA stating that CB 6 is in favor of keeping token booths open.

During evening rush hour at the Union Turnpike subway station in Kew Gardens, commuters had mixed reactions to the proposed closing of 128 part-time and 49 full-time token booths.

"It would be no good because what if we have problems with the machine or what if someone just wants to use a token?" said Boris Ibragimov, a Flushing resident who passes through the subway stop every day.

Terrence Ho, a Fresh Meadows resident, said he had no problem with the token booths closing.      

"I don't buy from the token booth anyway. I use the machines, when they take my credit card," he said.

The token booth clerk at the Union Turnpike station pointed out that in addition to safety issues, the lack of a human employee would also mean that people would have problems getting change from $10 or $20 bills.

Because machines can only give a maximum of $6 in change, people who only have $10 bills would be forced to buy $10 MetroCards and people with $20 bills would be forced to buy $15 or $20 MetroCards, he said.

"I don't see much crime - this is a nice station," he added. "But you need a human touch. We hope for the best. We hope they keep it open."

A public hearing on the MTA's proposed closing of the token booths and a proposed fare hike will be held Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. in the central jury room of Queens Borough Hall.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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