Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York
Customers waiting at a crowded subway platform due to a service interruption.

With New York City transit workers transporting more than 5.7 million riders daily, sometimes a delay in service is inevitable. Train crews, bus drivers, cleaners, station agents and other front line MTA workers always feel the brunt of delays by passengers. What they don’t know is transit’s front line employees are also affected negatively by these delays.

Crews and other front line personnel often become the punching bag of irritated passengers, because they’re the first ones customers see during delays. Front line employees get verbally abused, disrespected and in some cases even assaulted. One misconception the riding public have on train crews is that they control what happens to service, which is untrue. In fact, when you interview train personnel, they wish to have a work day with no disruptions.

Rail Control Center (train crews mission control) are the air traffic controllers of the subway system. When incidents happen along subway routes, RCC dispatchers must decide whether to hold a train, re-route a train, discharge a train or even turn a train. What ever decision RCC comes up with, it is relayed via walkie-talkie and train crews must follow their exact orders. When an RCC dispatcher decides to hold a train, especially during rush hour, the consequence is going to be trains getting stacked up behind each other, causing a “conga line” of delays and over crowded platforms.

As a result, RCC may re-route or turn some trains and not only inconvenience passengers, but train crews as well. For instance, a train crew may start out on the D line at Coney Island Stillwell and their destination is 205th street in the Bronx. During their finishing trip to go home from the Bronx, their train gets turned because of an incident. What if a member of this train crew has to go home to pick a child up from school, attend to a sick family member, make a doctors appointment, prepare dinner for their family or any other real life duty? Passengers fail to realize that workers have lives outside of transit also.

Also during delays, train crews lunch breaks get affected. Often times when there’s a delay, train crews don’t get lunch breaks. Picture being at work all day and not being able to sit down and eat, how would that make you feel? Transit’s way of reimbursing crews for missing lunch is having them fill out a “claim exemption form” for no lunch. The way crews qualify for a no lunch is if they have 20 minutes or less to eat. It’s really 18 minutes after you factor in BULLETIN NO. 128-15 that states, “Train crews MUST be on their trains and/or at their respective operating positions two minutes prior to their scheduled leaving time”. How can you enjoy a lunch in 18 minutes?

Even though train crews get paid 30 minutes bonus for missing lunch, it’s not a suitable substitution for actual food and recovery time off the train. Quite often when crews get back to a terminal after a delay in service, the dispatcher’s favorite line is “fill out your no lunch form and that’s you to go!”. That’s just a nice version of telling an employee, no you can’t eat food today, but for the good of the service MTA we will put an extra 30 minutes in your check.

In conclusion, when there is a delay in train service just remember to not kill the messenger. Train crews are following the orders of their bosses and they don’t make the decisions on how to inconvenience you today, because more than likely they are being inconvenienced too.


  • Tramell Thompson
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