When I’m waiting for a train, I’ll often take a look at the rubber bumper along the edge of the subway platform. Generally, I don’t like what I see. The bumpers are in various states of erosion, and sometimes the boards are visibly loose or just not there.
The bumper story came to a head in February of 2008 when a station collapsed. That day, part of the Kings Highway station platform fell and took a 14-year-old with it. The next day, NYC Transit President Howard Roberts promised an inspection of every single platform.
Today, we have a follow-up. After condemning NYC Transit’s response time in a preliminary report in January, the MTA Inspector General released his final report about the state of the platform edges, and the picture he paints is not a pretty one.
The document — available here as a PDF — carries with it a rather regal title: “An Inquiry Into Whether MTA New York City Transit Consistently and Correctly Identifies and Reports Subway Platform-Edge Safety Defects.” As you could imagine, Barry Kluger isn’t too pleased with the MTA’s efforts at correcting and addressing their platform issues. He summarizes:
- Platform-level inspectors at NYCT subway stations failed to correctly identify and report platform-edge safety defects visible at 16 of 23 stations sampled by OIG (70%), as confirmed by top officials in charge of station maintenance based upon their review of NYCT records and OIG photographs.
- Out of an OIG sample of 25 comments made by platform-level inspectors reporting non-safety defects, 22 of those comments used language that actually indicated safety defects, according to a review of those comments by top station maintenance officials.
- Station Operations Division middle managers are not promptly resolving confusion caused by inspectors who describe platform-edge conditions as safety defects, but rate and report them as non-safety defects.
- Different inspectors described the same platform-edge condition inconsistently. For example, inspection reports covering one station in the OIG sample, on five different days during a nineteen-day period, with no intervening repair, showed that two inspectors described the rubbing boards as “ok,” two others described them as “loose” (a safety defect) and a fifth noted that “rubbing boards in need of repair.”
- While NYCT requires that repair of so-called “non-safety defects” (which include safety defects that have been temporarily repaired) be completed within 60 days, its stated goal is to address 75% of those defects on time. Nevertheless, NYCT only addressed within 60 days some 41% of those rubbing board defects reported in the first eight months of 2008. Further, the backlog of defective rubbing boards is so great that NYCT’s goal for bringing these boards into a state of good repair is now December 2009.
In the end, Kluger offers up a succinct conclusion. “Rubbing boards with safety defects resulting from damage and deterioration pose a serious,predictable and widespread safety hazard, especially on subway lines with outdoor stations,” he says. He also recommends that New York City Transit systematize defect analysis and prioritize oversight and safety repair.
Interestingly, the Inspector General’s report ends with a letter from NYC Transit President Howard Roberts. In response to the IG’s preliminary report from January, Roberts stresses how he will direct Transit officials to improve their inspection efforts. Roberts, one of the key officials behind the Line Manager pilot, believes his program will help streamline platform repair efforts. The jury is out on that program, but I believe Roberts is on the right track with that promise. Now let’s see the Line Managers deliver.