The MTA is losing millions in poorly-planned weekend track work, and the agency is not doing an adequate enough job in providing alternate routes or information on service changes, a new report issued jointly by Thomas DiNapoli and John Liu says. The State and City Comptrollers’ report claims that the MTA wasted over $10 million over three years as trains were not placed back in service as work wrapped early. Furthermore, a sampling of projects found significant cost overruns as well.
“When the MTA fails to manage its service diversions properly, it’s more than an inconvenience; it’s a waste of taxpayer money and it derails local businesses,” DiNapoli, the state comptroller, said. “Our audit found that MTA’s service diversions are increasing in frequency and leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in cost overruns. The subway system is showing its age, but the MTA has to do a better job managing all aspects of these diversions, from rider notification to budgeting.”
The report — the first one issued jointly by the two comptrollers’ offices in some years — landed yesterday, and it was but another salvo in the barrage aimed at the MTA’s track work. Earlier in July, weekend service changes drew headlines when The Times noted how growing weekend ridership at some stations and along some lines has led to disgruntled passengers. The MTA subsequently promised to study weekend service along the L, but this new report seems to show how one study won’t be enough.
The details of the report are fairly unsurprising. Basically, the MTA’s track work is a mishmash of GOs that often aren’t recorded properly, aren’t communicated to the public properly and cost to much. For instance, the report found that that Transit spent just $228,000 in 2010 informing its 2.3 billion riders of service diversions while the Long Island Rail Road spent over $740,000 on its 81.9 million riders. At randomly selected stations, auditors found 20 signs instead of Transit’s alleged 50 and did not find signs at street level, in subway cars or on platforms in many instances. Furthermore, while Transit has a policy that calls for newspaper advertisements, they ran just twice out of 50 sampled diversions.
On the efficiency front, the findings were even worse. Servuce diversions increased in number between 2008 and 2010, and those lasting for more than a month rose from seven to 57. More damning though were the allegations of poor time management that cost the MTA upwards of $10.5 million and its passengers countless aggravations. Says the report: “Transit often reroutes riders’ trains even when no work is taking place. When asked for the General Order Worksheets that track time spent on each diversion, Transit management could only provide auditors with 29 of the 50. Of those 29 diversions, work started late on 28 and stopped early on 21. Unproductive work time ate up anywhere from 10 to 27 percent of the time trains were diverted, though there was no cost mitigation.”
“Sadly this confirms the nagging suspicion of riders, residents and business owners alike, that subway service is taken down more than necessary,” Liu, the city’s comptroller, said. “The MTA must understand that the City never sleeps and weekend service is neither ancillary nor expendable. We expect the MTA to maintain and repair the tracks, while keeping disruptions to a minimum.”
The two final areas studied showed similarly poor findings. In a study of 15 diversions and 12 contracts, the comptrollers found that four of these contracts were over budget by $26.6 million. Furthermore, shuttle buses are seemingly employed without regard for the ridership numbers. Transit officials generally could not explain how estimates were used to determine shuttle bus demand, and the only estimate they could provide was six years old.
For its part, the MTA issued its usual statement on weekend work. “Due to the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation of the subway system, planned service diversions are necessary in order to perform maintenance and capital work,” the authority said. “We make every effort to minimize customer inconvenience by coordinating work — performing multiple jobs in the same area so that we do not have to go back again. However, some projects are extremely involved, requiring several shutdowns.”
Still, in a response to the comptrollers’ report, Transit acknowledged its shortcomings. DiNapoli and Liu issued five recommendations. They include better outreach on service changes; closer monitoring of expenditures; a push to restore subway service as soon as possible; and a renewed attempt to better assess shuttle bus demand. Simple changes could go a long way toward making off-hour and weekend travel much, much less inconvenient for millions.