The Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Tuesday unveiled the first of its new “customer service centers,” set to replace token booths but with an expanded footprint aimed at enhanced local customer service.
The first three CSCs opened Tuesday at Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue and Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn and at 161st Street-Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, but another twelve can be expected across the five boroughs by the end of 2023. The centers are the linchpin of the MTA’s plan to reorient the role of station agents, bringing them outside of the plexiglass-encased token booth to directly assist straphangers.
But CSCs are intended to go beyond just replacing the token booth, MTA brass avow. For one, they’re much larger: an entire room with a staffed help booth but also places to sit and iPads equipped for riders to check service advisories, provide customer feedback, get information on switching to OMNY, and apply for reduced fares.
The centers will bring to riders’ backyards services that formerly required a lengthy schlep to MTA headquarters in lower Manhattan, even for basic transactions like exchanging expired MetroCards or applying for Fair Fares or other reduced-fare benefits.
“We are go, go, going with this idea of bringing customer service to the customers,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber at the opening of the Coney Island center on Tuesday. “Kind of a radical idea. Let’s make it convenient for our customers to do transactions with the MTA.”
The chair said that upon his ascendancy to the authority’s top perch, he was horrified to learn how many basic customer service actions required straphangers to come to the MTA, instead of the MTA going to them. Particularly galling were early morning lines forming outside MTA HQ to get those tasks done before heading off to work.
“If you haven’t stood on Stone Street at 8 o’clock in the morning when the line is forming of people who have to trek all the way from somewhere remote in the city, to line up to do these not very complicated transactions, you gotta see that before you dismiss this,” Lieber said in response to a question from amNewYork Metro. “To be able to do it in your neighborhood is, for a lot of people, a game-changer.”
Token booths were once an integral component of customer service on the subway, but they began to decline after the MTA switched from tokens to the MetroCard in the 1990s, falling further to the wayside as the internet became ubiquitous. Last year, the MTA and Transport Workers Union Local 100 reached an agreement to transform the role of the station agent, leaving the booth to provide more direct customer service, while retaining the jobs of the clerks.
Javier Loaiza, a Staten Island resident and three-year MTA token booth clerk, is excited for the revamped role, where instead of sitting in a booth for his whole shift, he’ll spend part of it on-the-go assisting riders.
“I look forward to it,” Loaiza told amNewYork Metro. “Now it’s gonna be more hands-on, where we’re gonna be outside the booth, as opposed to inside the booth for the whole eight hours. Now we’re gonna have outside contact with the customers.”
For Debra Greif, a Sheepshead Bay resident and longtime advocate for straphangers with disabilities, the centers are a welcome relief from the perilous, and frequently inaccessible, journey to lower Manhattan for customer service.
“I’m very happy because it means I don’t have to go down to Stone Street,” said Greif. “Now I can just come here with money or a debit card.”
Customer service centers are also set to open later this year at the following stations:
- E 180 St:
- Fordham Rd:
- Myrtle–Wyckoff Avs:
- 34 St–Penn Station:
- Fulton St:
- Times Square–42 St:
- 125 St:
- 168 St:
- Flushing–Main St:
- 74 St–Jackson Heights–Roosevelt Av:
- Sutphin Blvd–Archer Av–JFK Airport:
- St. George: SIR