Crews block trains over shopping cart worries as new rule is broken

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 the application of the to forbid on trolleys often associated with homelessness has been almost 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 rail operators and conductors, appeared last week in a selfie-video shot at the Bronx terminal of the No. 2 line, where he repeatedly reported passengers who had supermarket trolleys on 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 New York City Transit code of Conduct violation since 2020 which now results in 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.

A subway car caught fire at the 181 Street station after this shopping cart caught fire, officials said. February 2, 2022.
Marc A. Hermann/MTA

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.

Many recent fires came as the transit system grapples with what MTA President and CEO Janno Lieber called “a crisis in rider confidence” caused by “subway conditions,” including homelessness, crime and the horrible January 15 murder of Michelle Gowho 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 states 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 a 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. The Urban Justice Center Safety Net Project last year sued the New York City Transitaccusing the pandemic-era rules of being “arbitrary and capricious” and providing cover for homeless people to be 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.

Tyrone Cooper on an E train bound for Queens with his belongings in tow on Friday the 4th 2022.

Tyrone Cooper on an E train bound for Queens with his belongings in tow on Friday the 4th 2022.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/ THE CITY

“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.”

spinning wheels

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 internal. note 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.

“We can refuse to do dangerous work,” he said.

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Peggy P. Gilmore