When the MTA elevator story broke in The Times yesterday, I was struck by the candor in the reporting. William Neuman spoke to some high-level MTA employees — including NYC Transit President Howard Roberts and the agency’s own elevator and escalator guru — as he pieced his story together.
The MTA workers were generally candid in their critiques of their agency. “This organization is very, very good at subway car maintenance; it’s very good at bus maintenance. But maintaining auxiliary equipment it hasn’t done as well,” Roberts said. “I think that we are in the process of trying to create the same competence in elevator and escalator maintenance that we have in buses and subway cars.”
Joseph Joyce, the general superintendent of elevators and escalators, was equally forthcoming.
“I’m trying to get these guys to think that, you know what, that could be your mom that’s walking with a cane and needs that escalator,” he said to Neuman. “Nothing in this world is guaranteed. It could be one of us in a wheelchair next month. And if you want to enjoy the city, you want to be able to utilize our public transportation system. You need that elevator to work.”
It’s tough to find fault with the MTA for their honesty. Instead of hiding behind a bunch of “no comments,” the people in charge responded to an obvious problem and are seemingly willing to confront it head-on. Later in the day on Monday, NYC Transit released an official statement on elevator and escalator service problems. It read, in part:
To help better train our workforce, NYC Transit recently opened a specialized training annex aimed at teaching the maintenance and repair of elevators, escalators and moving walkways. The facility offers extensive hands-on training so employees will be as prepared as possible as they work to keep the subway system’s nearly 370 elevators and escalators in a state of good repair. Prior to the annex’s opening, all instruction was done in the field. The annex is now a vital tool in maintaining the reliability of the system’s elevator and escalator equipment. It should also be noted that in most instances, elevators are being installed in a system whose original designers never planned or provided for their installation.
Modeled after the program that helped dramatically boost subway car reliability, we have also begun a program that forecasts the expected service lives of escalator and elevator parts, and then replacing them prior to the point of failure. The system that houses maintenance records has been upgraded and fully computerized for easy reference and retrieval. Early improvements in reliability figures indicate that the move to the Scheduled Maintenance System is already having a positive impact. To visually check elevator and escalator operation, personnel from the Division of Stations check the equipment in their stations three times a day. In yet another move forward, NYC Transit has installed a $1.3 million electronic monitoring system to alert maintainers when an elevator or escalator stops working…
These aggressive shifts in our philosophy have earned some improvement in the reliability of escalators and elevators. Though we are still coming online with the training annex, escalator reliability rose from 97.1 percent to 98.1 percent from the first quarter of 2007 to the same period this year. Likewise, elevator reliability rose from 97.9 to 98.8 percent.
Part excuse, part explanation, but from the sound of it, NYC Transit is working hard to ensure elevator and escalator reliability, and they should be working hard. These services go beyond simple measures of efficiency and wasteful spending. For many wheelchair-bound straphangers, these elevators — although sparse — are the only means of entry and exit from the train systems. An unreliable system is doing no one any good.
In the end, it will be probably be a challenge for the MTA to keep these elevators running smoothly all the time. They are, after all, in use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Some people use the privacy of the elevators for inappropriate bodily functions; some people use them as their own personal drawing boards or garbage cans. They’re trod upon and abused during all hours of the day.
But as The Times story has drawn attention to a problem that is getting increasingly harder to ignore — someone think of the privately owned escalators! — it is comforting to know that the MTA is working to improve service. Hopefully, those measures will be successful.