Just over one month ago, the ceiling at 181st St. on the West Side IRT came crashing down and with it arose cries of a subpar station maintenance program. This week, New York City’s Comptroller William Thompson issued a damning report highly critical of the way New York City Transit goes about maintaining a database of stations in need of repairs and fixing those repairs.
“We recently averted tragedy when a subway ceiling collapsed onto tracks in Upper Manhattan. That should have signaled not just the need – but the urgency – to repair hazardous conditions,” Thompson said in a statement. “Instead, it’s as if New York City Transit is looking the other way. New Yorkers deserve better.”
The audit — available here as a PDF — paints a rather bleak picture of the current state of repair underground. Thompson and his office began investigating the MTA last year and have come to a rather stark conclusion. “New York City Transit is failing to repair reported defective and dangerous conditions – holes in station ceilings and platforms, corroded metal, loose or warped rubbing boards and broken steps – in commuter areas at subway stations across the city,” the Comptroller’s press release read.
The report features numerous stories such as the one about these stairs:
The Comptroller’s Office encountered this decrepit entrance at 33rd St. on the East Side IRT on November 25. On December 22, someone placed a service call, but on February 9, the steps still appeared in this state of disrepair. At other stations, damaged platform ceiling go unreported, and loose electrical wirings at 116th St. on the A went unrepaired for at least three months.
Beyond these reported and ignored problems, Thompson’s office found that the MTA has been closing out open tickets without making actual repairs. A handrail at 71st St. on the D/M in Brooklyn was reported broken on June 2, 2008, and while the trouble-call was filed as complete, six months later, the handrail was still loose. Stories such as these are pervasive at stations throughout the system.
In fact, auditors found problems with 399 of 426 sample trouble-calls, and the remaining 26 were at locations that were unidentifiable. According to to Thompson, 15 percent of calls were not repaired despite being filed 60 days prior to inspection. Two-thirds of these calls were closed out without any actual repair work being done.
The Comptroller’s Office also urged the MTA to institute a series of inspection measures:
- Ensure that station inspections are appropriately performed by station supervisors and that all observed defects are reported to maintenance shops;
- Establish a minimum requirement for frequency of station inspections and include this requirement in the Station Supervisor Training Program Manual and other operating procedures;
- Ensure that required inspection and frequency reports are used to evidence inspections and establish record maintenance requirements for such reports;
- Establish minimum requirements for supervisors to randomly review the work performed by maintenance personnel and to report on these observations. These reviews should be used as part of employee evaluations; and,
- Consult the Information Technology-Information Systems (IT-IS) department within the agency to discuss the weaknesses and needs of the MSU in tracking trouble-calls.
In response, Transit noted that it is in the process of instituting many of these suggestions. “Several of the recommendations made in the Comptroller’s Office audit report on MTA New York City Transit’s efforts to maintain and repair subway stations are being followed, while some, including those requiring the use of web-based technology, are under review for future incorporation,” the agency said in a statement.
“Improvements,” the statement continued, “are currently underway in the areas of the procedures governing station inspections and the frequency of these inspections, while supervisors receive additional training in the identification of station defects. This includes the continuation of a two-day training refresher that helps maintain the supervisor’s proficiency in this area.”
While the Line Manager program will streamline the repair process and subsequent oversight, the MTA is going to start compartmentalizing station rehabilitation plans in order to address problem spots at stations not up for a complete overhaul. Still, as the MTA struggles to reach its state of good repair and as last month’s station collapse is still fresh in our minds, Thompson’s report comes as a rather sober reminder that our system is fragile. We need better investment in transit, and we need it now.