Why NYC MTA conductors point out of their trains after stopping at subway stations-Learned From Japan Railway Workers

Why NYC MTA conductors point out of their trains after stopping at subway stations-Learned From Japan Railway Workers
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/mta-conductors-point-stopping-subway...
A subway conductor checks the train doors before pulling out of the Columbus Circle Station in NYC on Dec. 13, 2005.
A subway conductor checks the train doors before pulling out of the Columbus Circle Station in NYC on Dec. 13, 2005. (PETER FOLEY/REUTERS)
BY
DAN RIVOLI
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Sunday, September 17, 2017, 4:38 PM
Conductors have a curious habit of pointing out of their trains when it pulls into a station.

Stand at the middle of any subway platform and a rider can see, like clockwork, a conductor pull up, poke their head out of an open train cab window and point towards the ceiling.

The pointing can confuse subway newbies, who may wonder what they’re gesturing towards.

Follow their finger and you’ll see a black-and-white zebra-striped board hanging above them.

“You’re pointing to the safety of your passengers, to make sure that your train is completely and safely in the station,” said Shawna Robinson, a conductor who sits on the executive board of the Transport Workers Union Local 100. “You’re also pointing to let the (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) know that you’re doing what they trained us to do.”

Conductors are trained to point so that everyone watching knows they’re alert and that every train car is in the station, ready for the doors to open.

Before September 1996, when the MTA made pointing mandatory, conductors never had to acknowledge the boards, which were installed once technology allowed for a single conductor to ride the train, instead of one every two cars, according to the MTA’s history of the point.

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That year, top transit official Nathaniel Ford took a business trip to Japan, where he is credited with witnessing the pointing first-hand and bringing it back to New York’s subway, according to Atlas Obscura, a travel publication.

What Ford saw is known in Japanese as shisa kanko, which means “pointing and calling.”

It keeps Tokyo’s transit workers alert and its riders safe.

In New York, it became a curiosity to people observant enough to see the conductor routinely point to the platform.

It caught the eye of Calvin Huang, a native Brooklynite, when he would catch the train to school.

“Usually, when I stand in the middle of the platform, I was thinking, what is this guy doing?” Huang, a 21-year-old graphic design student, said. “I was noticing that they’re in position to open the train door.”

The procedure became the subject of a viral video in October 2013.

Called “The New York Subway Signs Experiment,” the video explains the pointing and has some fun with it. A group of young people hold signs with messages such as “Point here if you are dead sexy” and “Point here if you have seen a passenger naked.”

The video has been seen nearly 2.3 million times.

Marsha Fair, a conductor, 41, from Brooklyn, had no idea that conductors point to the board at every stop when she started training after she joined the agency in February 2016.

“At first I was like, this is so stupid. Pointing to the board?” she said.

But now, she sees why it’s necessary.

“For me, it’s all about safety,” she said. “It just keeps you alert. You know you have to find that board.”

It may seem silly, even among some conductors at the MTA, but it’s mandatory and enforced.

“If you don't point to that board you can get into a lot of trouble,” said Robinson.

Conductors are tested on this as part of the MTA Department of Subways’ Efficiency Testing Program.

The efficiency test makes sure conductors and operators are running trains safely.

For conductors, that means ensuring that doors open and close properly, observing the platform and, of course, pointing to the indication board.

Getting caught not pointing could get the conductor swapped out of the train on the spot and ordered to take a drug and alcohol test. The MTA could seek dismissal or a suspension up to 30 days, according to union officials.

Hundreds of train workers face field testing on subway operations and a handful have failed. Of the 378 conductors tested this year through June, 26 of them failed, according to figures obtained by the Daily News. Last year, 39 of 848 conductors tested failed.

The MTA did not respond to questions and a request for comment.

Crystal Young, a conductor and TWU rep, said the MTA should go easy on conductors, arguing that some workers are busted for not fully extending their arm out to point or that it was obscured by immense crowds on platforms.

“They may not see everything that’s going on and that’s unfortunate because it’s my word against your word,” Young said of the officials conducting the efficiency test. “They may say you didn’t do something that you actually did.”