Bronx subway station agent says ‘swipers’ threaten workers and commuters

NEW YORK -- A Bronx subway station agent told PIX11 illegal MetroCard swipers aren’t just harassing tourists at the “Air Train” station in Jamaica, Queens. Paula Collier said they’re also intimidating commuters at her busy 149 Street station in the Bronx, by Third Avenue.

“They’re trying to get the passengers to buy a $2 swipe from them,” Collier told PIX11.

Collier said a hustler this week got so aggressive, she had to place a call to police.

“He literally got up in the passenger’s face and pushed him,” Collier said. “Now, you’ll have six or seven running around. They’ll jam the machines....It used to be 15 to 20.”

PIX11 was doing a follow-up story to our mid-November report on MetroCard hustlers at the Sutphin Boulevard subway station in Queens who were deliberately jamming the ticket machines. The intent is to force tourists arriving from JFK Airport to buy a “swipe” from the hustlers in order to enter the New York City transit system.

Some commuters who saw our earlier story contacted PIX11 to complain the hustling is a system-wide problem, especially at busy subway stations in the Bronx and Manhattan.

PIX11 did see three uniformed police officers keeping close watch at the 149 Street station when we visited Wednesday—and we observed two at the 125 Street and Lexington Avenue station in Harlem.

“The police officers are doing a really good job at the station,” Collier said in the Bronx. “They’ve been really stepping it up. They’re here more and more.”

Yet when the police move to check out another part of the station, the swipers come swooping in again.

Derek Echevarria, a Vice President with Transport Workers Union Local 100, said the swipers harass the workers , even as they operate in secure booths.

“When they see them pick up the phone, they threaten them, ‘What time are you getting off work? I’m gonna follow you,’” Echevarria said to PIX11.

Joe Bermudez, Division Chair for the union who oversees stations, said agents and other workers are often subjected to bogus complaints from swipers.

“They’ll call the Transit Authority and say your station agent threatened to kill me,” Bermudez said. “And he says ‘I’m a customer, even though he’s a known swiper with a record.”

Bermudez said some subway workers end up losing a day’s pay after getting disciplined.

That’s hasn’t happened to Paula Collier, who’s retiring next week after 30-plus years working at Bronx subway stations.

“I will not miss the nonsense that goes on in the train station,” Collier said. “30 years is about enough.”