By Molly Sugarman
“This isn’t a return to broken windows, it’s a return to common sense,” was CB7 Board Chair Steven Brown’s response to efforts being made to reduce crime and quality-of-life problems in the subway system.
In his presentation to the CB7 Transportation Committee on Tuesday, May 10, NYPD Transit Police Chief Jason Wilcox acknowledged that there is a lot of fear about riding the subway. “We are trying to turn the fear around,” he said, “We are trying to restore order and calm.”
Part of that effort is cracking down on quality-of-life issues in the subway: smoking, urinating, taking up multiple seats to sleep, and so on. Summons for these types of incidents have increased 92% this year, compared to last year, Wilcox said.
“This is a problem in Chicago, San Francisco, and Philly,” Andrew Albert, Transportation Committee co-chair, observed. “It’s like the pandemic made people out of their minds.”
Fare evasion has also increased, Wilcox noted. “The message sent out the last few years is that nobody is watching,” he said. “That’s over. We are going after this problem.”
Albert noted that fare evasion hurts those who can least afford it. The millions of dollars lost could be used for better service or to prevent fare increases, he said.
The NYPD has increased transit patrols and is working with teams of physicians, nurses, and others to engage homeless people and get them services and shelter, Wilcox said. “We are making it a team issue, not a police issue,” he added.
As part of that approach, he encourages the public to report any infractions they see to an MTA employee — such as the person in the booth — or to call 311. If possible, include the number of the car in which the problem occurred. It can be found at either end of the car and on the outside.
Sheldon Fine, a member of the CB7 Board, recounted his efforts to report a man taking up six seats on a subway car. He suggested that the MTA make public service announcements, telling people what to do if they see something inappropriate going on. Albert added that the electronic signs in the stations could be used to encourage people to report.
Erena Stennett, a member of the committee, noted that the 96th Street station is the worst, but that it has an entry on 93rd Street that has many incidents as well, especially panhandlers harassing riders.
“The chief thing I want people to do is get hold of us,” Wilcox said. “Don’t just walk away. I want to know what is going on as soon as possible.”
Committee member Doug Kleiman noted, “This is music to my ears. I am a firm believer that the city does not come back without the subway system.”