The latest from William Neuman is an odd tale indeed. According to The Times, New York City Transit officials are backtracking in a way on their decision earlier this year to eliminate an emergency response team.
A dedicated emergency response team for the subway — trained to help police officers and firefighters confront transit emergencies — was eliminated by New York City Transit this spring as officials overrode concerns of the agency’s safety experts.
The seven-member unit was created to address shortcomings that had become apparent after a series of bungled responses to fires and other incidents in the subway system, and it had won praise during its 13 months of existence for improving communication among police, fire and transit officials at emergencies.
Yet the agency’s leaders, including its president, Howard H. Roberts Jr., deemed the response team unnecessary. They compared the unit to Maytag repairmen, saying it was rarely used… When the unit was eliminated in March, it was replaced by the same much-criticized system that had been in use before the team was created.
But after first defending the change, Mr. Roberts now acknowledges that it was mishandled, saying that the response team should not have been eliminated before a better system was fully in place.
He said that no analysis was done of the unit’s effectiveness before it was disbanded. He said that neither he nor the agency’s vice president for subways, Steven A. Feil, had looked at basic data on the unit’s performance, like the number of incidents it responded to, until last week when the information was requested by The New York Times. That data showed that the unit had responded to hundreds of incidents, large and small.
Neuman’s piece goes in depth on the elimination of this team, and Transit is taking the heat for downplaying the response team’s effectiveness. “I think that the basic thing that went wrong here was that people wanted you to go away,” Roberts said to Neuman, who earlier this year had poked around the situation.
In the article, Neuman tracks the creation and subsequent elimination of a team designed to streamline how Transit handles underground emergency situations. While MTA officials said that the team was underutilized, current numbers show an average of two emergency response efforts per day. Roberts plans to reestablish the team once the new Line Manager program is full implemented this fall.
I wonder how the agency, with its public image largely battered after the Doomsday budget debacle, will handle this latest revelation from The Times.