MTA catches flak over tweeting that NYC subway benches were removed to deter homeless

Clayton Guse, New York Daily News
·2 min read

MTA officials were in hot water Sunday for a tweet that bluntly announced benches had been removed from a Manhattan subway station to keep homeless people from sleeping underground.

The now-deleted post came in response to a Friday tweet from a straphanger who was perplexed by the sudden lack of benches at the 23rd St. station on the F and M lines.

“Benches were removed from stations to prevent the homeless from sleeping on them,” the agency replied from @NYCTSubway, an official account that responds to straphanger concerns in real time.

The response triggered blowback from advocates who viewed the move as inhumane — and some support from riders disturbed by the uptick in transit homelessness and crime rates since the pandemic began.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Abbey Collins said “the tweet was posted in error,” but doubled down on the agency’s stance that the subway isn’t designed to serve as a homeless shelter.

“Homeless New Yorkers deserve much better care,” said Collins. “We have been working with the city on this important issue and have asked for more dedicated mental health and medical resources, which are urgently needed to solve the homeless crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

MTA officials wouldn’t say how many benches have been yanked from subway stations since the pandemic hit New York.

Transit advocates at the Riders Alliance saw the bench removal as the latest move in Gov. Cuomo’s push to prevent homeless people from sleeping in the subway. The group has also taken issue with the governor’s order that’s closed the subway from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. each night since May 6 to disinfect train surfaces and kick out homeless riders.

“Gov. Cuomo can’t solve transit homelessness by moving people along,” said Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein. “Neither closing the subway overnight nor tearing out benches will meet the needs of New Yorkers without homes. Making the subway less useful and less comfortable makes life harder for essential workers, people with disabilities, and everyone who depends on public transit.”

The criticism predates the pandemic.

The MTA was also accused of making the subway less hospitable for homeless and disabled riders through the agency’s $1 billion “enhanced station initiative” that was pushed by Cuomo in 2017, and brought cosmetic redesigns to roughly 30 subway stations.

In some cases those redesigns included replacing benches with angled wooden blocks drilled into walls, which allow riders to lean but not sit.