Two weeks ago, brash thieves brought public transportation in parts of Howard Beach and Ozone Park to its knees after stealing hundreds of feet of copper cable from Metropolitan Transportation Authority A train tracks.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Howard Beach) on Monday unveiled legislation that would make the punishment for the perpetrators a lot more than the proverbial slap on the wrist.
The bill proposed by Goldfeder would amend the state Penal Codes in order to strengthen sentencing for criminal tampering that has the effect of disrupting public transportation and other services. Under new legislation, causing substantial interruptions to transportation and other infrastructure, either with the intent to steal or disrupt service, would be considered a class D felony, which could result in up to seven years’ imprisonment.
Under current law, Goldfeder cited, criminal tampering with public services is a misdemeanor punishable anywhere from 15 days to one year in prison, or three years of probation. At the same time, the law imposes stricter punishments for purposefully interrupting or impairing transportation services. However, because of a legal loophole, intruders on subway tracks face stiffer penalties for tampering with infrastructure intending to cause disruptions than they would for doing so in order to steal it, even though both actions have the same effect of stopping service for commuters, Goldfeder noted.
“Every day, our families in southern Queens and Rockaway rely on limited transit options to get to work or school. Criminals who knowingly tamper with our vital transportation infrastructure just to make a buck deserve more than a slap on the wrist,” Goldfeder said. “By increasing penalties for this shameful crime, we can help protect our infrastructure and ensure reliable service for the families that depend on it.”
Additionally, Goldfeder has sent a letter to MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast requesting a “thorough investigation” into the May 26 security breach and failed contingency plans intended to aid commuters during the morning rush hour on May 27.
Goldfeder has roundly ripped the agency for staging shuttle buses on Cross Bay Boulevard to accommodate Rockaway commuters who were waiting on the A trains that couldn’t travel on the crippled tracks.
“The answer to one situation is not to create another one,” Goldfeder said.
In a Queens Chronicle report, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said, “Staging nearly 100 buses on side streets in order to operate a shuttle bus service to accommodate the thousands of customers from the Rockaways was not an option. Also, the streets leading to the Beach Channel station are too narrow for buses, so we had to keep them on the boulevard. So yes, the buses had to take up space on the boulevard, and as far as I know, we don’t have any flying buses that can just swoop in from the sky and pick up customers.”
Goldfeder later called Ortiz’s response “unacceptable” and “callous.”
Ortiz said he stands by his comment.
“During the subway service outage, we made the best of a bad situation,” he said. “I cannot reemphasize enough that operating the shuttle buses on side streets, as Assemblymember Goldfeder suggests, was not an option. Operating nearly 100 buses on local, narrow side streets would have slowed down traffic, made boarding more difficult, and would have created a safety concern for pedestrians.”