Home New York City Transit MTAIG Reports: Emergency response teams, track worker efficiency

MTAIG Reports: Emergency response teams, track worker efficiency

by Benjamin Kabak

MTAIGlogo In June, The Times reported on the MTA’s decision to eliminate its dedicated emergency response team. In November 2008, ABC News tracked a bunch of MTA workers who weren’t really working. In both instances, Barry Kluger, the MTA Inspector General, decided to investigate these allegations, and this week, he released his reports on these incidents.

Transit’s Emergency Response coordination lacking

Throughout the 1990s, New York City’s First Responders — Fire, Police, OEM — urged the MTA to streamline its emergency response team. It suffered from a lack of centralized leadership, poor communication and vague planning and operational standards. It took a delayed response to a track fire in 2006 to spur Transit into forming the Rapid Transit Emergency Response team.

In March 2008, the team came together with seven emergency response officers heading the emergency oversight. Then, in March 2009, as part of a cost-cutting measure, the MTA eliminated it and returned emergency response over to a rotating cast of managers. When the June Times article was published, Transit President Howard Roberts said he was still working to firm up a better solution that would also save the agency money, and MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger launched his investigation.

Nearly six months later, Roberts is no longer the head of Transit, and according to Kluger’s report, Transit’s emergency response protocols are still lacking. With new line managers and group general managers in place, the ERO teams are no longer sure to whom they should report. Kluger now calls for a clarification of Transit’s “emergency response function regarding the role of the ERO; training; communication; proximity response;
continuity of knowledge; reporting for duty; and equipment.”

“We also recommended that NYC Transit designate an emergency response coordinator to properly guide and facilitate the planning and implementation of emergency response activities through the reorganization of Subways,” the report, available here as a PDF, says.

In October, Roberts agreed to many of Kluger’s preliminary recommendations but not the one urging for a solitary emergency response coordinator. The IG report again calls for a streamlined leadership, better training requirements and more thorough communications controls.

Transit spokesman Charles Seaton told me the agency will be addressing these concerns. “In working with the Inspector General on the analysis of his report, we have already begun incorporating many of his recommendations,” he said in a statement. “[Wednesday was] the first day on the job for the new President of MTA New York City Transit and he will make it his priority to review the contents of the report. As always, our top concern remains the safety and security of our customers.” Better to resolve this one before we learn the hard way that Transit’s emergency response protocols are lacking.

Access schedules to blame for idle track workers; cost to agency $10 million

On the other side of the tracks, we have MTA work crews with a reputation for laziness. We’ve read stories of sleeping station agents and construction teams doing little work. The fault, it seems, does not lie solely with the workers. In a second report, available here, Kluger blames track access schedules for nearly $10 million in lost productivity for the MTA.

The problem here is one of scheduling. The daytime MTA work crews — approximately 455 total workers — are schedule for shifts that run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but because of the morning and afternoon rush hours, Transit limits track access to the four hours between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. This problem plagues workers schedule to work both in the tunnels and on the MTA’s elevated structures.

Furthermore, both communications and planning efforts suffer as well. Some workers do not receive daily assignments until two hours into their shifts, and they aren’t cleared to enter the tracks until even later in the day. For workers on site, tools and equipment arrivals “are not coordinated with the start of work,” the report says.

In the end, the Inspector General’s recommendations and Transit’s response to them will not be popular with labor leaders. The MTAIG urged Transit to schedule more work for weekends when track access is uninterrupted for the duration of the eight-hour shifts and called upon Transit to better formulate a “reasonably restrictive weekend leave policy.” While Transit endorsed shifting workers to weekend shifts, the agency was not keen on restricting its leave policy.

TWU officials responded with a less-than-conciliatory note. And who can blame them? After all, unions came about partly to enforce a work week with weekends and appropriate family time off.

“The answer” — to the MTA’s work schedule woes — “is not to punish track workers and our families for the MTA’s gross mismanagement,” John Samuelsen of TWU Local 100 said. “If the MTA moves to take track workers from our families on both Saturday and Sunday every week, there will be swift intervention from TWU Local 100.”

At a time when labor relations between the TWU and the MTA are tense, Transit is going to have to ask its workers to make a pretty significant time concession. I don’t see the union being too amenable to it.

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rhywun December 3, 2009 - 7:53 am

I love how the union demands its workers to be scheduled during hours they can’t work, and blames this on the MTA’s “gross mismanagement”. I guess they have a point, if by “gross management” they mean “the inability to negotiate coherent work rules”.

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