Jan
29

The South Ferry debacle as an MTA metaphor

By · Published in 2009

All Times

It’s not a stretch to say that the South Ferry story — the first new station in 20 years delayed by a one-inch miscalculation — is indicative of the larger problems plaguing the MTA. After all, like every other recent capital project, the South Ferry station is tens of millions of dollars over budget and now 14 months late. But there’s something about the way the MTA handled this gap problem that speaks volumes about its internal organization.

When last we saw this story, Newsday had reported that a gap between the platform and train doors ranging from 0.04 inches to one inch in violation of safety standards had to be closed. Thus, the opening of the new South Ferry Terminal would be delayed by a few weeks. As Wednesday progressed, more news emerged.

Surprisingly — or not, really — the Daily News reported that it will cost $200,000 to replace and enlarge the two pieces of plastic that will close the gap. That’s about 1200 feet of plastic and labor for $200,000. No wonder the MTA is running a deficit. (For what it’s worth, the News also notes that water is already seeping into the sparkly new station. The MTA will attempt to use more grouting to stem that leak. At least the new station will fit in with the rest of the subway system’s popular Water Damage motif.)

The good story emerged from a William Neuman City Room post alleging a credibility gap at the MTA. This gap is far wider than an inch. Neuman writes:

Now members of the authority’s board are unhappy that they were not told about the problem. “I feel we’ve got to be told exactly what’s happening,” said Andrew Albert, a board member. “Mistakes do happen,” he added, “but we have to know.”

The flap began on Monday when the authority’s capital construction czar, Michael Horodniceanu, told a board committee that the station opening was being delayed because it was taking longer to test the station’s mechanical systems, such as the fire suppression system, than had been anticipated.

He made no mention of the gap problem, even as he was being questioned by board members about the delay…

On Wednesday, after a meeting of the full authority board, Mr. Horodniceanu told reporters that he had first become aware that the gap might be too wide at least a week ago. He said that measurements were taken last weekend and that he reviewed the data Monday afternoon.

Horodniceanu released a statement to the media and the Board when questioned about his unwillingness to offer up the gap problem on Monday. “Until I had clear indication that there is nothing that we can do,” he said, “and that did not happen until Monday, when I got a plot of the survey, it was not a topic that I thought ought to be brought up unless I had an answer and a solution. If I bring just problems without solutions that’s an issue. And that’s not how we do business.”

That’s the whole problem, isn’t it? At last night’s largely unremarkable but heavily attended Brooklyn-based fare hikes and service cuts hearings, the few speakers I sat through before leaving at 7:30 all noted the same thing. The MTA doesn’t do business properly. Just add this to the long list of internal problems plaguing an agency that needs public support more than it needs more bad P.R. right now.



Categories : MTA Absurdity

7 Responses to “The South Ferry debacle as an MTA metaphor”

  1. rhywun says:

    Well, it *is* a government agency. That means buckets of bureaucracy, red tape, pointing fingers, and nobody wanting to take responsibility. New York is currently overflowing with partially-completed projects of all kinds exhibiting this same principle. And the paralysis just gets worse in a bad economy.

    • Fritz says:

      This has nothing to do with it being a government agency. The difference is when private agencies do too many things too wrong for too long they can go out of business (or, in the case of GM, get government as if they were government run). I don’t know what needs to be done to fix the MTA… but any subway system–private or public–is a necessary service for a city and can’t be let go out of business like a normal company. Hopefully transit advocates will help to reform our transit agencies which might save money… but just as importantly will help to save the credibility of the agencies so that state and federal government will feel safe lending them money and not feeling it’s being wasted.

      • rhywun says:

        OK, then take what I said to mean “it is an *American* government agency” if you wish. Ours certainly seems more incompetent than many others, especially when it comes to infrastructure.

  2. herenthere says:

    I think the MTA needs to review their civil engineering contracts…water seeping into a station built in the 21st century?! Unacceptable.

  3. Niccolo Machiavelli says:

    There are plenty of reasons to bash the MTA I suppose. That the business practices are not “normal”, whatever that means, may actually be some sort of relief if your standard of normalcy is Lehman Bros. Of course it is not “normal” because it is a public authority.

    Most of the construction errors are not the direct result of the work of the MTA but of the many contractors, private sector “normal” operations. Still the track-platform gap measurements at South Street and the gaps deriving therefrom are really more a result of the iron laws of geometry than any systemic failures of the MTA.

    This story is really one of a media, largely ignorant of construction process, problems and costs rolling there eyes at a very short schedule slippage (a few weeks) and a really tiny $200,000 deriving from the error that “the contractor will likely bear the expense of the added work.” the reluctant sneering admission in the Daily News continued war on common sense. The media story is partly one of very many difficult, sometimes counter-intuitive transportation issues that the “journalists” are unable to explain to a public that yearns for simple answers to complex problems.

    More honest headlines would blare “MTA held hostage to petty Tabloids”.
    Has anyone making these accusations ever done any construction work? Certainly not by any evidence in these pieces.

    But that is nothing new, the Post, News and recently the Times as well are all bankrupt money-losing businesses that by screaming about issues they know not of deflect attention from their own failures. The real problem here is when other writers (2nd Ave Sagas?) that suggest a supportive analysis of mass transit issues, jump on this stuff as “proof” of a greater conclusion of systemic failure, as in “That’s the whole problem, isn’t it?”. When pro-transit blogs leap to such silly arguments there is really no source for the poor reader, that actually wants to know little things like facts and reason for important issues of the day, to turn.

    • I see what you saying, and I don’t disagree even if that means pointing the finger at myself. When something this absurd comes along, we bloggers latch on to it because it makes for easy writing.

      But at the same time, if you look at how the MTA officials handled this with Horodiceanu actively not mentioning this as a cause of the delay at the board meeting, doesn’t that suggest a deeper problem within the MTA? You can call it internal cooperation or lines of communication, but when a big-ticket, top-five capital construction project is being delayed even more because of some engineering or architectural error, how can the guy in charge keep that a secret?

  4. Niccolo Machiavelli says:

    A suggestion of a deeper problem it may be, proof it is not. I think there is a tendency in any group, business, union, whatever, for people who do things, or make things, when things go wrong to want to fix them themselves. I have many subordinate who do make mistakes, I make mistakes. I don’t expect a “mea culpa” from my subordinates when they do. If a project is delayed or over-cost I do expect an honest explanation within a certain range. If thats all thats going on here, if you really want this guys head over this stuff, go ahead and execute him. However you are talking about a 1″ gap that will be fixed in three weeks when the gaps on the LIRR are like 13″ and have been there for 130 years. And, the other issues were slowing the project anyway.

    And, this is so small that it takes some stones to even call this an error. Sometimes, in the course of studying engineering solutions to small deviations the builders determine that there is no error at all or that it can be changed with the stroke of a pen rather than some rubber bumpers.

    My objection is not to criticism of his “dishonesty” (?) it is the over the top proof of MTA state of permanent failure. Every issue, regardless of how tiny and resolvable, is slathered on the Tabloid headlines. That makes builders and operators more likely, not less likely, to try to massage the error rather than coming forward with a “mea culpa”.

    Dr.Horodniceanu is actually blamed because his Phd. is only in Planning. I think he should say he is sorry. Hang his head in shame. If he has anything to apologize for its that tie.

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