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So You Want To Get A Photo Permit?

Posted by Nilet on Thu Jul 5 04:22:22 2007


...On PATH?

It's not easy. The process, it would seem, is deliberately irritating, and proper photo permits don't exist. I tried to get a permit almost a year ago. I was, ultimately, unsuccessful.

My ultimately futile quest for a PATH photo permit began last September. I had intended to wait until I had obtained a permit before posting my experience in searching for one, but the permit was never gained and I came to forget about it. Then, today, my perusal of SubChat brought me to a long thread regarding proposed legislation to require permits for photography in general, and there are occasional suggestions that we obtain a PATH photo permit and go on a group trip. I was reminded of my own efforts to gain the approval of PATH for photography, and I've uncovered my record of my prior efforts.

Thus follows the story of my efforts to protect my photographic activities with the official approval of the Port Authority. I had always intended to put the story on SubChat, so I took notes as I went. However, the first day's events had to be translated from my own personal shorthand, so accuracy is not guaranteed.

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

I called the information number listed on the Port Authority's website for PATH information. It took a very long time to get through, since I had to navigate through a long automated phone system. (Photo permits were not something the automated system could help you with.) Eventually, I reached an actual person, who quickly transferred my call to another person. I was told that I could skip the automated system by calling 216-6247, but I didn't write down the area code (and I certainly don't remember it now, although I suppose I could look it up), and even then, I think I was transferred to a different number after calling that.

I was told that in order to get a PATH photo permit, I would have to come to their office at 1 PATH Plaza in Journal Square and apply in person.

A review of PATH rules revealed an additional constraint; I had to have a PATH escort when I took photos, and as such I had to specify exactly when and where I wanted to take them. I had to apply a day and a half before that time and date to give PATH 36 hours of advance notice, but I could not apply more than seven days in advance.

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

I went to 1 PATH Plaza, and searched a few minutes for the building. Eventually, I found the street entrance, but it was closed; a sign redirected me to the lower level entrance. I had to return to the Journal Square station, and was then forced to track it down again. I found where the entrance was, but it was at the end of a long hall, with a sign at the front of the hallway saying: "Stop, employees with ID only beyond this point." As I stood there, wondering whether to simply ignore this sign and proceed towards the entrance, two PATH employees walked past. I asked them about getting a PATH photo permit. One said: "No, they don't give those. You'll never get one." After I muttered a slight protest, he said: "Well, it can't hurt to ask."

Taking this as an invitation to march past the "Stop, only employees allowed beyond this point" sign, I walked down the hall and actually reached the entrance to 1 PATH Plaza. The woman at the security desk then told me that no one deals with permits or permit applications in person, despite the fact that I was previously told that I must apply for a permit in person. The woman at the security desk gave me a phone number, which turned out to be the same one I'd called before. I called it and got transferred to the person I spoke to previously, who turned out to be named Julia. She remembered me from before. On the phone, she read the rules herself, and informed me that she wasn't quite certain about the procedure because I was the first person to ever apply for a photo permit. She told me she'd call back in five minutes.

I returned to the other end of the long hall and waited for ten minutes before deciding to call her again. As I was dialing, however, the phone rang. Julia said it was all worked out, and told me to come to the tenth floor. I returned to the entrance where the guard was and said: "I need to go to the 10th floor." The guard wouldn't let me up. She asked for Julia's name (which I hadn't yet learned at the time), then asked to see the last four digits of the number she'd originally given to me. I gave them to her, but pointed out that I'd been transferred to a different number. She dialed several times, and said: “They’re not answering.” I pointed out that I had been transferred, and searched in vain through my phone’s call records. Eventually, I called the number the guard had given me, asked to be transferred again, and reached Julia, explaining the problem. She said: “Tell the guard you need to go to the 10th floor.” I did so, but the guard wouldn’t let me up; she said: “Tell her to call me!” I did so, and hung up. The guard said: “So she’s calling?” I said yes, then the guard’s phone rang. The guard answered, acknowledged, then let me up— but I had to fill out a sign-in sheet that asked for my name, the floor I was going to, and whether I was a US citizen. (Why, exactly?) I went up to floor 10. Julia wasn’t there, but someone else in the office buzzed her. She came out with a permit application, and a copy of the rules. I filled out the application, she took it, and made a photocopy for me. She was very nice, and said that the permit would likely be approved, but reiterated that no one had ever applied for a permit before! Okay.

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

I called Julia at roughly 2:00 PM. She said that she had someone else on hold and would need to call back. She also said she still had to "check something."

I called back at 3:00 or so. She said that some form of special approval was required, and mentioned some worry about terrorist threats. She also said that I couldn't do it around sunset, since I wasn't allowed to be out taking photos during peak hours. She said that she'd try to get the application approved first, and that we should worry about that; after it was approved, we could set a time. The rules said the application was supposed to be submitted no more than a week in advance, but that requirement apparently no longer applied— although if Julia was right, this would be the first time it was ever tested.

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

I lost the "direct dial" number for Julia's office, so I had to navigate the maze of automated customer service crap, although I eventually reached Julia. She said she'd talked with their security department, and she'd be happy to tell them I was still interested. (Perhaps they were hoping I'd given up?) Julia then told me that I would not be allowed to take photos between stations, meaning I wouldn't be able to get the Journal Square to Harrison run; the hope of getting that run at sunset was the original inspiration for applying for the permit. I decided it would be worth it anyway; I'd see what I could get and didn't want to give up now. Perhaps I'd get a nice escort.

Julia said that we needed to schedule a time, and we eventually settled on Thursday the 19th. She seemed willing to help, but I had called late in the day (nearly 5:00) and most of the staff had already left. She also said that I might be able to schedule the trip during the sunset after all.

Friday, October 13th, 2006

Again, I had to navigate through the auto-customer-service phone maze. However, this time I was able to do it much faster, and quickly reached Customer Service, asked for Julia, and was transferred to her. She apologized for being disorganized and not getting back to me, she confirmed that October 19th would be a good date for the photo trip, and she implied that the Higher Ups were OK with the photo permit. Then, she began to mention new and ludicrous restrictions! She said:

1. No interior shots; no pictures inside PATH cars.
2. No pictures of station interiors that feature exits within the frame.
3. No pictures of "PATH infrastructure," although that may have referred only to the above.

Apparently, taking pics of the inside of PATH cars isn't allowed, and exits must be carefully cropped out of all pictures entirely; that's considered "PATH infrastructure." Nothing was ever explicitly mentioned about railfan window shots. She did, however, explicitly tell me that I could take pictures of the exterior of PATH stations, in a tone that had me worried (at least briefly) that those were the only allowable pictures. (Of course, a station exterior pic would be taken from public property; I wouldn't even need PATH's permission for that.)

She also said that the official PATH escort who I was obligated to have with me would have more detailed and specific information about what would be allowed and what I couldn't take pictures of.

She also said she would call back on Monday.

Late October, 2006

Some time later, Julia called me. I was railfanning across the Manhattan Bridge at the time, but she managed to catch me briefly as we went above ground and I got cell service. She told me that the permit had been denied. Her reason? I had applied to take photos during rush hour, and this was not allowed.

I never heard from her again.

By the way, here's my permit application. (Technically, it's only the photocopy.) I still have it, along with the copy of the rules it came with.


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