Crews block trains over shopping cart worries as new rule is broken
A person sleeps in a shopping cart at Penn Station as police officers stand in the background, Feb. 7, 2022. Photo by Jose Martinez/THE CITY
A motorist’s death in 2020 led the MTA to ban big carts from the subway after fire investigators said a man set one on fire, setting a train on fire.
But the union that represents subway workers says enforcement of the trolley ban often associated with homelessness is virtually non-existent – while the NYPD would not say how many have been removed from trains or stations at the behest of THE CITY.
“If MTA management can’t get the NYPD and the Transit Police to enforce the ban, nothing in the world can get them to enforce it,” said Canella Gomez, vice president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union.
“It’s not even about all the fires that have happened – for our train crews it’s mostly about one of our brothers who died in a caddy fire.”
Train conductor Garrett Goble, 36, died in March 2020, when his No. 2 train caught fire at Central Park North-110th Street station. Authorities charged a man with murder nine months after Goble’s death, accusing him of setting fire to a cart.
“It’s all very upsetting,” her mother, Vicki Goble, recently told THE CITY. “My son had such a bright future and in a flash he was gone because of someone’s cruel act.”
Gomez, who represents train operators and conductors, appeared last week in a video selfie taken at the Bronx terminal of the No. 2 line, where he repeatedly pointed out passengers who had supermarket trolleys in the trains.
He called for “safety before service”.
“We won’t let any train go down the road with you and this cart,” he told a man pushing a cart full of plastic trash bags. “It does not go through.”
The NYPD has repeatedly refused to answer questions about how often its transit bureau officers have enforced the ban on “wheeled carts” that measure more than 30 inches in width or length — a violation of the code of New York City Transit driving since 2020 which now carries a $75 fine.
The union’s push for tougher enforcement comes after recent subway fires, including a Feb. 2 explosion that FDNY officials say started in a smaller, collapsible cart at the 181st Street station on the line. #1.
THE CITY reported last week that there were 1,006 subway fires in 2021, a 12% increase from 2020 and a 40% increase from the previous year.
“It’s up to us to work with our NYPD partners to make sure the rules of conduct are followed in the system,” Craig Cipriano, acting president of New York City Transit, told THE CITY on Friday.
Several recent fires have occurred as the transit system grapples with what MTA President and CEO Janno Lieber called “a crisis in rider confidence” brought on by “conditions in the Metro,” including homelessness, crime, and the horrific murder of Michelle Go on January 15. , who was pushed in front of a train by a man at the Times Square-42nd Street station.
The MTA and FDNY could not provide figures on the number of subway fires involving shopping carts.
According to the transit agency, more than 90% of subway fires last year did not disrupt service, damage property or require an FDNY response.
An internal incident report obtained by THE CITY shows a trolley on the tracks was suspected to be the cause of a fire on January 19, 2021 at the 49th Street stop in Manhattan, delaying 17 trains on lines N and R.
Another report from February 1, 2021 indicates that a collision between a train and a trolley on the tracks of Liberty Avenue station in Brooklyn caused a “small explosion” and delays on the A line. In August, a collision between a C train and shopping cart at the Fulton Street stop in Manhattan caused a fire, temporarily halting rush-hour service on two lines.
“Just what I need to make ends meet”
Several homeless people who take the metro with shopping trolleys told THE CITY that the ban is mostly ignored.
“No cop ever told me to get that thing out of the subway,” said Tanka Jonh, 65, who had a shopping cart on a platform Friday at the 59th Street-Columbus Circle station in Manhattan. “It’s handy for carrying the things I need, so I think it’s fine.”
Homeless advocates have criticized the ban, which they say discriminates against New Yorkers sheltering in the subway. Last year, the Urban Justice Center’s Safety Net Project sued New York City Transit, accusing pandemic-era rules of being “arbitrary and capricious” and providing cover for homeless people are kicked out of the subway system.
“Banning shopping carts doesn’t address the root causes of homelessness or the question of why people bring their belongings onto the subway system in the first place,” said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director at the Coalition for the homeless. “It seems like a very heavy-handed enforcement mechanism to simply ban all shopping carts because there’s a risk people will inflame them.”
Tyrone Cooper, who drove the E train last week with a large wheeled cart carrying a suitcase and a cooler full of sodas, said officers told him to remove him from trains during rush hour.
“I’m just a worker, selling peanuts, candy, soda and all that stuff,” said Cooper, a 65-year-old street vendor who is currently homeless. “I have just enough to make ends meet.”
Gomez, the union official, said he felt compassion for the homeless and the mentally ill, but noted that crews did not want to operate the trains in “unsafe conditions”.
“It’s not like I want them on the street, but I don’t want the carts on the train,” Gomez said. “It’s like a double-edged sword.”
Subway driver Nakia Butler told THE CITY that she refused to move an L train from the 14th Street/Sixth Avenue station last November because of two shopping carts in the car she was driving.
“A million caddies can get on the train every day, but as long as it’s in my view, Bulletin 72-20 says they’re not allowed on the trains,” Butler told THE CITY, quoting a memo. of May 2020 on the revised rules. . “We call them, we hit them and the police don’t come and take them away.”
Lieber said at the MTA’s board meeting in January that Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams understand the urgency of the mental health crisis on the subway, citing their commitment to helping “those New “Incredibly Vulnerable Yorkers” by placing more mental health workers and police at stations and on trains.
“We want to be part of a system that actually helps them,” Lieber said. “But we cannot accept that they pose a threat to our passengers and to the viability of the system – we need our customers to feel safe.”
Gomez said train crews are “more than fed up” with threats of workplace violence from unhinged conductors.
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