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Know Your Rights
Source: AM New York
Subject: Language Access
Type: Media Coverage

MTA investigating sign that apparently slights riders without English skills



This was no welcome sign.

A transit worker along the No. 7 line apparently made a public dig against
straphangers without English skills recently, and the bizarre incident has left
MTA officials livid, saying it falls contrary to efforts to increase public
transit’s accessibility.

“It’s very upsetting to me,” John Hoban, general line manager of the No. 7
train, said yesterday. “It is the antithesis of what the No. 7 line is

Last week, a transit employee at the Hunters Point Avenue station scrawled
“English spoken here” on the token booth’s dry erase board. The sign shocked
some riders in the multi-ethnic enclave.

“That’s very rude,” said Wesley Fruge, 26, a Long Island City straphanger who
snapped a photo of the sign on Friday. “It’s something that shouldn’t have been

As an agency rule, token booth boards can only display service updates or
MetroCard information. Officials yesterday were still investigating who was
responsible for the writing and are expected to question two station agents

Riders on the No. 7 line are some of the most diverse in the city, with the
train often called the “international express.” But public transit can bewilder
those without solid English skills, said Andrew Friedman of Make the Road New
, a nonprofit that runs ESL classes.

“There’s tons of immigrants who are afraid to get on the subway because they
feel confused,” Friedman said.

Station agents receive instruction in customer service and how to accommodate
riders with disabilities, but transit does not provide language classes or
cultural-sensitivity training. The MTA also does not assign station agents based
on language skills, as clerks chose their jobs based on seniority.

Still, those who speak a particular language often select stations serving
their community, union leaders said. Others learn a few key phrases to help them
on the job.

“You see a big smile on their faces when they hear some common words,” said
John Mooney, a station agent who learned Russian phrases while working in
Brighton Beach.

The MTA translates all service advisory signs into Spanish, along with
Chinese, Korean and Russian in particular neighborhoods. It has also

– Allowed straphangers to fill out surveys in different languages.

– Deployed translators to stations with many immigrants during service
interruptions or public events, with interpreters speaking seven languages
stationed at the U.S. Open last month.

– Started designing cards listing key phrases in different languages for
station personnel confronting emergencies.

“We’re not there yet,” said Hoban, who is learning Spanish to speak with his
riders. “But it’s essential I know what they are thinking and how I can serve
them better.”

Languages in NYC by the numbers
170: Estimated number of languages
spoken in the city
48: Percent of New Yorkers who speak another language at
23: Percent who don’t feel they speak English well
Source: U.S.
Census Bureau