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Beloved Bedford L Train Platform Attendant Gets Teary Send-Off From Riders

By Gwynne Hogan | June 10, 2016 3:45pm | Updated on June 12, 2016 11:10pm
 Williamsburg residents bid their beloved track manager goodbye Friday. 
Beloved Platform Manager Steffon Williams
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WILLIAMSBURG — He was the light at the end of the tunnel.

Straphangers at one of the Brooklyn's busiest subway stops bade farewell Friday to their beloved platform conductor, who they said helped young kids safely navigate their way onto the crowed train and made sure that elderly riders and pregnant women found seats.

Steffon Williams, 35 will be transferred to Queens Plaza after Friday because another worker with more seniority requested the stop, the MTA said, despite a petition with hundreds of signatures and a social media campaign, begging for him to stay.

Though Williams had worked at Bedford Avenue for less than a year, he'd already managed to work his way into the hearts of riders who say he brought comfort and a smile in one of the most stressful moments of the day, they said.

"Commuting to work is the first thing we do every day," said Emmy Burns, 37, who'd posted fliers at the station with news about Williams' departure and started the hashtag #BringSteffanBacktoBedford (though his name is misspelled).

"He just makes everybody happy. He goes above and beyond," Burns added.

Straphangers showed up Friday bearing gifts of red roses, apricot jam and freshly baked cakes. They gave Williams hugs and fist bumps and even let trains pass so they could have an extra moment to say goodbye.

"There's been people that have replaced him for vacation and stuff and all they do is stand there," said Nancy Maloney, 53, who always urges her 12-year-old daughter to "go to Steffon, he'll help you on the train," when she rides alone.

"It can be scary for a kid because it's so crowded," she said. "He just brings a really comforting, happy atmosphere to the place. You know you're going to get on the train and if you don't everything's going to be OK."

Fourth grader Maria Riker started a petition that garnered hundreds of signatures.

"Steffon's nice, he always helps me on when it's crowded," Maria said. "He keeps me from getting squished." 

Maria's mother sent the petition to Williams' boss at the MTA, though the transfer was ultimately decided by the Transit Workers Union, they learned.

The TWU confirmed that requests by senior members take priority.

"If I had my say, I would retire at that job, that's how much I love working at Bedford," Williams said, adding that he'd try to get back to the station at the next lottery in several months. "I'm excited to go to work. I've never had that before."

The notoriously miserable L train commute, which even inspired a graphic novel, is a reliably claustrophobic experience at the Bedford Avenue stop, the last stop before Manhattan. About 27,000 use the station on an average weekday, according MTA statistics from last year. 

Straphangers often have to wait for several trains to pass before they can jam their way into a packed train car.

"We've lived here since 1999. There's never been an MTA worker [like him]," said Elizabeth Riker, Maria's mother. "This platform gets so crowded, you get afraid. Sometimes we joke you need a snorkel."

When Williams broke the news to a train of commuters earlier in the week just before they pulled away from the station, "everyone in the train went, 'Oh my God!,'" said Maloney, who was riding on the train at the time.

"Strangers just said to each other, nobody can replace him, who's gonna replace him?"

Williams said during his 13 years on the job, he's always taken a more proactive bent compared to many others who, "hide in a corner, they disappear. They kill time, stare."

"You gotta take action," he said. "There's kids, elderly, there's a lot of pregnant women that have to wait in line. It shouldn't go down like that."

One time he'd even managed to save a woman from getting her leg clipped off by a train, after she'd slipped and fallen with her leg was dangling into the tracks, he said.

"I scooped her up, I don't know where I got the strength," he said. "She only got a little nick instead of her whole leg coming off."

And though he's brought his positive attitude to stations all over the city, since his first day at Bedford Avenue last July, something felt different, he said.

"I'd get goose bumps every day," he said, adding that right away he felt a connection to parents, kids and commuters of all stripes at Bedford Avenue. "Wow, maybe this is somewhere where I belong."

Just before 9 a.m. towards the tail end of the morning rush on his last day at the station, signal troubles stalled a train on the track and commuters had to evacuate while the issue was resolved, cramming the platform.

"When the train's out of service it's a whole other ballgame," said Williams, before nudging his way through a throng of commuters. "This is where the real work starts."