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MTA to Hold Hearings Prior to Closing Booths

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A Manhattan judge has ruled that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) can not close subway token booths or fire more than 200 station agents without first holding public hearings.

Civil court Judge Saliann Scarpulla made the ruling today, saying that the MTA didn't hold sufficient public hearings on its plan to close about 100 full and part-time station booths as part of its attempt to balance its budget. The station agents are needed to staff the booths. Judge Scarpulla added that her ruling was in line with New York's Public Authorities Control Board law.

The MTA argued that hearings held in January 2009 should have been sufficient. But the judge said those hearings applied to an earlier strategy that would close the booths gradually, once enough station agents retired or voluntarily decided to leave.

In December, because enough agents hadn't left their jobs, the MTA decided to lay them off. As a result, last month, the authority laid off nearly half of the planned 475 agents, saying that it would still have enough agents to staff all the booths they were planning on closing.

Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, the union that represents the station agents and that pressed the case along with the community organization ACORN, declared Judge Scarpulla's ruling was a major victory.

"Events in recent months...underscore TWU’s position that holding new hearings on the booth closings is in the best interest of the millions of people who use the subways every day," said the union's president, John Samuelsen, referring to the attempted bombings in or near subway stations allegedly planned by Najibullah Zazi and Faisal Shazad. "It is also an important reprieve for the station agents who have had the layoff axe hanging over their heads for the past five months."

Samuelsen added his local union would continue lobbying for a U.S. Senate bill that would provide $2 billion in new mass transit operating funds, and would keep the token booths open permanently.

The MTA has said it plans to respond to the judge's decision soon. But the judge's decision leaves open the possibility that the MTA could lay off the agents after holding additional hearings.