WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, NY — Uptown elected officials, employees of the NYC Transit Authority, and union leaders are teaming up to sue the MTA over the elimination of elevator operators at subway stations in Washington Height — stating that it will lead to less safety for local riders.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Sen. Robert Jackson, Council Member Carmen De La Rosa, and Assembly Member Manny De Los Santos, along with Michael Schweinsberg the President of the 504 Democratic Club, filed a lawsuit Thursday in New York’s Supreme Court on behalf of subway riders against the New York City Transit Authority, which is the branch of the MTA that manages and maintains stations.

The suit looks to stop the MTA’s plan, which will become finalized on Sunday, of removing longtime elevator operators at the 168th Street A train and 1 train stations, the 181st Street A and 1 train stations, the 190th A train station, and the 191st Street 1 train station.

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Elevators are the only way to access the majority of those uptown station platforms.

Among the included stations, there are around 19 jobs involved in covering the stop’s elevators operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the suit.

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“These personnel continued to ride the elevators, and push the buttons, even after the elevators became fully mechanized, in order to provide a safe ride for subway passengers and assist people with disabilities who enter the elevators,” reads the suit. “In addition, for those 70 years, elevator jobs have provided work for disabled NYCTA workers, mostly Station Cleaners who can no longer handle the work of mopping, scraping and cleaning a subway station.”

Joana Flores, an MTA spokesperson, told Patch — “We are reviewing the lawsuit.”

The MTA has announced its plan to transition the elevator operators into new roles as station cleaners.

However, the suit states that these new jobs would be “too difficult” for some of the elevator operators, who physically wouldn’t be able to perform the more mobile roles expected in the station cleaner position.

A foursome of these longtime elevator operators, Brian Brooks, Lourdes Bochelli, Brenda Wicker and Edith Aponte, are also petitioners on the lawsuit filed Thursday, who had all been accommodated as people with a disability by the NYC Transit Authority by being given work in the elevator operator role, according to the suit.

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In a previous comment given to Patch last month, the MTA did say that it would take into consideration the physical limitations that current elevator operators might have.

It is unclear how exactly the agency is doing this, though.

The lawsuit also pointed to the safety that operators provide during elevator rides within some of the deepest stations in the system.

“Since the pandemic, these stations (Washington Heights stops included within the suit) have also housed an increased number of people experiencing homelessness and individuals battling addiction,” reads the suit.

The lawsuit added that the 1,000-foot-long tunnel used to access the 191st Street 1 train station and the sheer number of people that go through the 181st Street 1 train station as examples of areas where riders would be comforted by having an elevator operator.

“Oftentimes, elevator staff are the first uniformed liaisons to offer assistance outside of fellow passengers when entering the stations,” the lawsuit reads. “Having dedicated and visible personnel at train stations is crucial in deterring undesirable behavior, mitigating poor outcomes, and addressing incidents promptly.”

The MTA has used this argument for its reinstalled subway cleaners program, where employees are moving around the station at a more frequent rate.

Petitioners are asking the judge to stop the MTA from removing the elevator operators until public hearings are conducted on removing the positions from the Washington Heights stations, and until adequate accommodations are provided for those former operators with disabilities, according to the lawsuit.

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