When it rains bad news, it pours for the MTA. Hot the heels of this whole fare hike mess comes the MTA’s Office of the Inspector General, an independent state-run, investigative and audit unit tasked with keeping an eye on the MTA. All things considered, they do a fairly terrible job. Just ask the City Comptroller.
But, to be fair, when the MTAIG issues a report, it’s usually not good news for New York City Transit, and yesterday’s release of a report on the sorry state of the NYCT lost and found is no exception. The reports, available here, paint the picture of a service that is lost and found in name only. It’s more likely to be a lost and never found again.
- The recovery rate for lost items on NYCT-controlled property is a whopping 18 percent. The MTAIG calls this a “needlessly low” recovery rate spurred on by operational problems and no real agency committement.
- In a field audit, the workers at MTAIG handed 26 items over to NYCT employees. Twenty three of those items were never logged into the system and could not be located in the end. Just three — or 11 percent — were logged.
So here we have two problems: The MTA doesn’t have a very good process for getting lost items to a central processing center, and once there, the methods for identifying lost items are fatally flawed. Basically, the first problem is what you would expect. “We found that on some occasions, valuable jewelry such as a diamond earring or a wallet containing hundreds of dollars had been turned in as lost property, but never transported to the [Lost Property Unit] to be claimed by the owner,” the Inspector General’s report said.
Well, of course. If anyone finds something in the subway of any monetary value, “finders keepers” seems to be the name of that game. But the fact that subway supervisors don’t even know the proper intake procedures is troublesome to say the least. My advice to you, dear straphanger: Don’t lose anything of value on the subway. You’re not getting it back.
The second report — the one detailing operations at the MTA’s Lost Property Unit — is even better. Personal Identification (driver licenses, passports, etc.) are left unsecured in a massive pile of lost property, and the “unnecessarily long retention policy” leads to some pathetically amusing descriptions.
“At one point, it took an LPU employee almost four hours to locate a sample of 10 items selected by the auditors from the inventory. In order to retrieve items, staff often climbed shelves, moved large parcels and generally exerted notable efforts to search through piles of lost items. The items were ultimately found but it is not practicable to spend so much time on every request,” reads the report. I can’t make that up.
Obviously, the Inspector General recommended a better approach to lost property. He has advised New York City Transit to adopt a better processing system and a more defined retention and storage policy. For their part, NYCT is listening. “New York City Transit has either implemented or is in the process of implementing the majority of the recommendations made by the Inspector General in his report. Those recommendations which we have not implemented are under review. We appreciate the constructive criticism of the Inspector General and his staff,” the TA’s statement said.
While it’s easy to joke about the MTA’s seemingly inept LPU, the reality is that this is exactly the kind of press the MTA doesn’t need right now. With Lee Sander and a much more qualified crew heading up the MTA and its various divisions than we’ve had in a long time, the MTA will become a more streamlined transportation authority. Right now, though, the bureaucracy can still be pretty thick, and this IG report certainly brings one highly flawed process to light.