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Vandalism of Subway Phones Continues; Bell Atlantic Strikes Back
Year-old Campaign Addresses Issues Raised In
February 4, 1999
BACKGROUND -- The Straphangers Campaign has issued a report on
the quality of payphone service provided by Bell Atlantic to New York
City's subway riders. The following reply, given to the Straphangers,
details progress made over the past year. Noteworthy is the fact that the
Straphangers' survey was completed more than six months ago. Without
criticizing the survey methods or results, Bell Atlantic reports that since
the survey was taken, the company has made great progress in improving
payphone service. The following response should be attributed to Ted
Bautz, director of major accounts for Bell Atlantic Public
As contractor to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Bell Atlantic
maintains more than 4,000 payphones in stations and access areas of the
city's subway system. Our goal is to provide top quality service to on-
the-go New Yorkers. We're pleased that the Straphangers Campaign and
the MTA are interested in helping us do the best job possible in serving
the travelling public.
Serving the MTA account has presented Bell Atlantic with some unique
challenges -- challenges that an aggressive service improvement program
launched in January 1998 has begun to impact.
The number one challenge to service quality is vandalism. The abuse
given our public phones is unbelievable. In some cases, a phone is
repaired and within hours has been vandalized again. Part of the problem
with maintaining the equipment has been the use of the blue, coinless
Charge-A-Call phones, initially placed in the subway on the assumption
that a phone with no money in it would not be vandalized. That proved
to be a false assumption. In fact, this equipment has proven even more
vulnerable to vandals, and a program to remove the blue phones was
begun a year ago.
Other challenges we're working on include gathering from station
managers and the MTA timely reports of out-of-service phones. We're
working with the MTA to have those reports forwarded immediately to
our repair teams so they can meet their objective of repairing equipment
within 24 hours of out-of-service reports. Currently, reports from station
masters are aggregated and called in, causing a delay on some dispatches.
We've made outstanding progress in 1998 on a number of fronts:
- Bell Atlantic appointed a regional manager and a premier
account manager to concentrate on the MTA account and remedy any
service problems uncovered. To support their work, they have
established a monthly report card that is reviewed with the MTA
regularly to highlight areas where progress is being made and where
more effort is required.
- A service improvement team made up of representatives from
repair, installation, sales, support and marketing groups, was formed to
track and improve service.
- We formed a dedicated team made up of a service manager and
assigned technicians to service subway phones.
These teams have focused on increasing the number of subway
payphones working at any given time. Our most recent results, measured
since the Straphangers Campaign survey was conducted last summer,
indicate that generally nine out of ten phones surveyed are in working
order at any given time, based on daily reports and monthly surveys.
Our program to remove coinless phones and replace them with reinforced
pay stations is progressing. Within the year, some 90 percent of the blue
phones will be removed. The new telephones are "smart sets" and can
call in their own repair problems, from missing handsets to full coin
banks, speeding repair time.
We're working with the city to relocate some of our payphones to areas
where they can be observed by MTA personnel or where they will be less
susceptible to vandalism.
Problems with MTA phones are given priority over routine work on other
payphones. . Bell Atlantic has already established "MTA Sundays." On
these days, a team of 14 technicians uses the relatively quiet day to visit,
repair and clean phones in the subways. We're also considering a night
crew to work during the quiet overnight hours on subway phones.
Since vandalism is a major problem, we're reaching out to the police to
help us stem the tide of violence against our equipment. In fact, just last
week, they made 13 arrests, charging individuals with malicious damage
to our equipment. Support of the police in this effort is greatly
Our facilities for disabled customers are being revamped. Devices for the
hearing impaired are being moved closer to where they can be monitored
against vandals, and phones are being lowered for easier access.
Bell Atlantic would be delighted to work in concert with the Straphangers
Campaign to learn subway riders' concerns about subway
communications issues and to identify other ways to improve service.
We've made this offer before and hope the coalition will find value in
working with us and the MTA.