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MTA Hiring 500 New Transit Police Officers To Counter Assaults, Fare Evasion

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The MTA is hiring 500 new transit police officers.

With subway service gradually improving, the MTA is hiring the cops to deal with those quality-of-life issues that make the ride unpleasant, CBS2 political reporter Marcia Kramer says.

The new officers will replace NYPD and bridge and tunnel officers who were re-assigned over the summer to improve safety on mass transit.

"These additional police officers will enable us to continue to focus on getting the homeless the help they need," NYC Transit Authority President Andy Byford said. "They will help us in terms of fare evasion, and they'll also help us in terms of making sure our staff are properly protected."

Previously the MTA has said it is losing hundreds of millions of dollars from people choosing not to pay the fare, and protecting subway personnel is a particular problem because subway assaults have soared 40% this year.

Between January and August, 85 transit workers were attacked, compared to 61 during the same period last year.

"Our people are getting assaulted. Our people are getting spit on. We got urine thrown on us. The stabbing, punching, in one case, they punched a pregnant woman. It's gotta stop," Transport Workers President Tony Utano said.

He says more cops are great, but the problem of the homeless on the subways requires Mayor Bill de Blasio to get involved, too, because many homeless say they feel safer going to jail than a shelter.

"This is the city. The mayor is the mayor of the city. He should come in and get some kind of shelters. He should get some hospitals. He should get some doctors," Utano said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded in June after another unprovoked attack on an MTA worker.

"Public employees must be protected at work and these attacks must stop," he said.

Surveillance video appears to show a man in a red and black track suit walking away from the 1 train platform in the 145th street station, only to turn around and punch a cleaner with the MTA in the face before leaving. Police said the attack at around 3:30 a.m. on Saturday was unprovoked.

MTA Update On Transit Performance

"I've seen the video. I was disgusted by it. It's appalling," Byford said. "There are far too many attacks on transit workers. Again, decent people that are just doing their jobs."

The move, which will be paid for in part with $40 million that was provided by Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance, comes as a new audit by State Comptroller Tom Dinapoli says the MTA is facing a sea of red ink -- budget gaps that will require fare hikes of 4% in 2021 and 2023.

Although fare hikes are not a surprise, the comptroller points out, "Since 2007, the average subway and bus fare has grown by 62 percent, three times faster than inflation and the growth in wages in the metropolitan area."

READ: New York Inspector General Report On Fare Evasion & MTA Reply

But while they may not want to pay more, riders love the idea of more cops.

"You see what's on this train? Not good people. People jumping the turnstile every day, no, it's no good," one rider said.

"Knowing that you have more protection around, you feel much safer," another rider said.

"I think I'd like to see a thousand down there," another rider said. "It's not the New York it used to be."

About that budget gap, MTA officials have said they expect to announce service cuts this month and other belt-tightening measures. It's unclear whether there will also have to be layoffs.

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