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Home Travel How the Subway’s Weekend Problem Fixer Spends His Sundays

How the Subway’s Weekend Problem Fixer Spends His Sundays

by Staff

New Yorkers who take the subway on Sundays may not know the name Jose LaSalle, but they might have seen him around in his orange safety vest.

Mr. LaSalle, 55, is the deputy chief of weekend service diversions and coordination for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the city’s subways and buses. That makes him the person responsible for troubleshooting and handling customer complaints at stations when there are delays and service disruptions. Around the office, he’s known as the “weekend service czar.”

He grew up in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, but these days he lives in a two-bedroom apartment in the East Village in Manhattan with his wife, Janet Rosario, 56, a New York City Transit train conductor.

NO SLOUCH. BUT: SLACK. Every Sunday that I’m not on vacation, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. As soon as I wake up, I have this habit of checking Slack. I’m checking for service diversions, things I can prep for. Anything impacting customers — a bottleneck or anything that can cause their journey time to be impacted — I check.

I hit my Breville espresso machine, turn on “Eyewitness News” Channel 7 and start running a shower so I can get out of the house by 6:15. Then I’m mobile. I try to make it in to my first stop by 7. Wherever there’s a lot of confusion on the part of the customer is where I want to go. That’s often a subway station, but it might be a bus stop.

DUCKING, DODGING There’s always stuff coming. You’ve got to be like a boxer, ducking and dodging left, dodging right. And you’re only as good as your team, so I have a lot of good teammates that help me duck and not get hit. Lately, we’ve been having these operations in Coney Island, so I’ll go there first thing and then start making my way back to the city, but then something might call us out to Queens. I direct my attention to stations and bus stops where we want to make sure everything’s operating efficiently. In some cases it’s planned problems we’re going to check on; in some cases they’re not planned.

MULTILINGUAL When I arrive somewhere, I try to see how we can make the customer experience better for people. If there’s a real problematic concern, I could be in one place two or three hours or half the day.

In Queens, we’ve been working on a big project with accessibility issues related to the Americans With Disabilities Act. Multiple stations have been impacted — Queens Plaza, Roosevelt Avenue. There was a situation where you couldn’t get into Manhattan from Queens, so we had a real big push to get customers when they got off the 7 trains to go downstairs to take several other lines into Manhattan.

On the N line, we had bus and walking transfers to a station five minutes away. Because the demographics of Queens are what they are, we want to make sure announcements are being made in Korean, Spanish and Chinese in addition to English. We want it where every customer can get information in the language they’re familiar with.

HOMETOWN HERO I’ve been working at the M.T.A. 31 years. I’ve worked every day, every holiday. It’s just par for the course. Sometimes these challenges that we come across day to day, they’re what makes my day. That’s what I was hired for, to fix problems. I look at it as a challenge to try to meet and exceed everybody’s expectations. Yes, it’s a tough job. But if it wasn’t a tough job I don’t think I’d want it. It gives me the opportunity to do right by New Yorkers.

QUICK BITE What I eat depends on where I’m going. I grew up in Brooklyn, so if I go to Brooklyn, in Greenpoint there’s a doughnut shop I love called Peter Pan on Manhattan Avenue. I’ll get a Boston Cream. I need that sugar fix. If I’m in StuyTown I’ll go to Ess-a-Bagel. I’m trying intermittent fasting, so that means eating two times a day in an eight-hour period.

AMBUSH I get heckled all the time. I have a habit of wearing my civil servant’s vest. That will kind of get you ambushed and beat down or however you want to put it when there’s problems. You’ve just got to keep your cool about yourself and understand that people’s frustration is not with you — it’s with where they’re at.

As much as I try to tell customers we have all these applications and emails that go out to the public about our planned work, not everybody is checking their smartphone to see what time the train is coming. If I could get all our New Yorkers together at one time, I would like to tell them to use the app, check the weekend email so they know what’s going on. But that doesn’t always happen, so I’m always getting asked questions. I like to give people their options.

THE BOSS The latest I’ve gotten out of work on a Sunday is 7. That was New York City Marathon Sunday; I don’t want to see anything go wrong. Usually I’m done at 3:30 or 4. I go right home or stop at Urban Market if we’re going to make dinner at home. I’ll get an order from Janet — she’s the boss. If we’re going to give Janet a break from cooking, we’ll go to El Castillo de Jagua or Scarr’s Pizza for pepperoni, cheese and honey on a slice.

24/7 At home we lounge around and catch up on anything going on with the grandkids — they’re 9, 6, 6 and 1. We’ll FaceTime them. I’m a Knicks, Mets, Giants fan, so if there’s a game going on, I might turn it on. For the most part I’m still checking my phone for work, though. As the weekend guru or weekend czar, I have to see what, if anything, is changing, see if my bosses are reaching out to me.

RESTED AND RIGHT Around 9:30 I go to bed, because I’m getting up at 5 the next morning. I got to say that as a New Yorker, I take my work seriously. We’re used to waiting in lines for things, but I don’t want our subway journey to be a long line of trains. I want to get everybody where they need to go efficiently. These weekend folks I see, they’re often blue-collar workers going to work. I want to do right by them.

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