Candid Camera: The Real Story on the MTA
By Svetlana Gelman

How many times have you seen a picture of a token booth clerk sleeping on the job? How many times have you read about how much this man gets paid for napping? I barely ever glance at newspapers because they are so often ghastly, but even I have seen the pictures since they’re also all over the internet. The salary of the man is usually shown to be somewhere around $70,000. Sure, it all looks bad, but let’s do a little thinking and some math…

If this man makes $25 an hour, which most of us college students would drool over, he will make $1,000 a week. Let’s multiply that by 52… that becomes… $52,000; a good amount less than the purported $70,000. Still, let’s say the man really did make that much money… how could that happen? Perhaps through overtime, of which there is now plenty, since token booth clerks are becoming few in the work force. So, that man would have to work a good extra 15 hours per week, resulting in a 65 hour work week, to get to $70,000, especially if we realize how one-third of that will be taken out in taxes.

Well, that’s not a justification of dereliction, but can you still blame him in the same way you did before for sometimes appearing unconscious when a photographer from the New York Post is conveniently near by – although it wouldn’t have to be someone employed by the newspaper. The way things have been going since the strike, anyone would be glad to turn in a picture like that to ridicule the MTA workers and their demands.

I’ll admit my bias. A member of my family works for the MTA and I can’t help but see things from his point of view. On the other hand, most people now have a bias of their own. Not only was the strike a great inconvenience, but the bad rep the workers have been getting ever since in the newspapers has not helped their cause.

The thing about newspapers is that their stories are not driven only by the desire to inform the public, but also by sensationalism and profit. The Metropolitan Transit Authority is a powerful monopoly and the newspapers, especially those less reputable, tend to acquiesce to such powers. There are negative articles about MTA workers and how negligence or laziness allowed some disaster to occur, but there is very little in the papers these days about the capable way the MTA workers handle their often stressful jobs.

A week ago, the family member I mentioned earlier nearly killed a drunk man who was unconscious on the tracks. He was operating the train at the time, and although he noticed that people on the platform were waiving and shouting something, he didn’t know what that meant as he couldn’t see the drunk man. A token booth operator ran out in the nick of time and with a flashlight signaled the train operator to stop. He then called 911 and everything resulted in a 15 minute delay instead of a funeral and dispensation of blame. This isn’t exactly an unusual occurrence, but is the sort of thing that should not go without notice. It did though. While new pictures and stories of carelessness surface, this act of heroism and competency is discarded by mass media.

Everything, including this article, must be taken with a grain of salt, but please, try to see things from more than just one point of view. On one hand, when disaster strikes and MTA workers aren’t able to prevent it, it’s monstrous to be incompetent because there is so much at stake. On the other hand, when it is brought to the attention of the public that these workers make minimum wage and have good benefits, the great responsibility they carry is forgotten and they are lampooned for their “excessive salary.” Take information in as a whole, realize that these are deserving people and that they are individuals and, as such, are not responsible as a whole for the one rude bus driver or the one late train. They are the people who move millions of commuters every day and they are the people who made sure that hundreds of people were not panicking underground during the 2000 Blackout. Be nice to your local MTA worker!