In writing yesterday on the MTA contractor charged with fraud, I noted that the transit agency’s pilot program to outfit stations with cell service seemed to be on terminal hold. After all, the public unveiling of the plan arrived in September of 2007, and over 20 months later, nothing very much has happened.
Today, we learn that, despite the approaching internal deadline the plan remains on hold for a reason. As Bobby Cuza reports, Transit Wireless, the company awarded the contract to outfit six stations with cell service, has not yet received a Notice to Proceed because it does not have sufficient financial backing. “This doesn’t even seem like they have to go back to square one. It sounds like they never left the drawing board to begin with,” John Liu, city council member and Transportation Committee head, said to Cuza.
The NY1 reporter has more:
When Liu held a hearing in October 2007, MTA officials said they expected the Notice To Proceed would be issued within two months. But the MTA now says the contractor, a consortium of companies called Transit Wireless, never met the required conditions, which included demonstrating sufficient financing. Transit Wireless had no comment but the MTA acknowledged the group was hindered by the economic downturn.
“Unfortunately, the private sector response now to it, given the economy, has caused that to be stalled, not surprising. Again, just because of the overall economy,” said Former MTA Executive Director & CEO Lee Sander. “So the capacity is there, and hopefully the market will come back, and we will have that pilot move forward.”
In a statement released Thursday, the MTA said, “We continue to work with the contractor and hope that a resolution can be reached in the near future. The MTA remains committed to providing cellular service in underground subway stations.”
The agency, however, did not provide a new timetable.
At this stage, it’s worth noting two aspects to this story: First, Transit Wireless was created for the express purpose of winning this contract. As their website — not updated since 2007 — says, “Transit Wireless was formed specifically to respond to the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Request for Proposals to design, market, install, own, operate and maintain a neutral, shared wireless infrastructure to provide seamless, uninterrupted commercial wireless services to the MTA’s New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) riders within the 277 underground subway stations in New York City.”
Second, while Cuza’s reporting yet again brings this story into the spotlight, this financial trouble should not be blamed upon the current economy. Back in October 2007, I noted that Transit Wireless seemed like a shaky company with no secure financing. Back then, I wrote, “It sounds like the MTA signed a 10-year deal worth around $200 million with a company that doesn’t really exist and may not have the funds to pay up or implement its plan.”
While the MTA didn’t pay anything for this deal and stands to lose only the revenue it would have drawn in from a successful implementation, the costs are steep. The agency is now two years behind in its modernization efforts with no relief in sight. Another technology upgrade — a program in place in transit systems around the world — is falling by the wayside.