Home Buses DiNapoli faults bus inspection efforts

DiNapoli faults bus inspection efforts

by Benjamin Kabak

A new state comptroller's report questions the MTA's bus inspection efforts. (Photo by flickr user Stephen Rees)

The MTA has an inspection problem. As the investigation into falsified subway signal reports is ongoing, Thomas DiNapoli, New York State’s comptroller, released an audit yesterday damning the MTA’s bus inspection efforts. According to the report, nearly half of the MTA’s bus fleet has not been properly inspect, and the costs for these less-than-complete inspections are astronomical.

“New Yorkers aren’t getting what they pay for when it comes to bus service,” DiNapoli said. “Other cities across the nation spend much less on maintenance and get better results. The MTA needs to step up bus maintenance performance and bring down maintenance costs.”

The audit, available here as a PDF, paints a rather bleak picture of bus inspection efforts. For instance, of a random sample of 23 buses from various depots, 584 of the required 1255 inspections over a two-year time frame were “not performed on time, were not performed correctly, or were not performed at all.” Additionally, the engine inspections required for hybrid buses at 48,000 and 96,000 miles were not conducted on any of the 17 hybrid buses selection.

The news gets worse. Buses at 18 of the MTA’s 29 depots did not reach their performance goals. For instance, at one depot the mean distance between failures clocked in at 3581 miles while the target was 4674 miles. A whopping 52 percent of depots saw their buses break down well before scheduled maintenance intervals.

DiNapoli looked at costs as well. The report says: “The maintenance cost per bus mile is another measurement that is used in the evaluation of a maintenance program’s effectiveness. We compared this measurement at the MTA and eight other metropolitan transportation agencies in 2008, and found that the MTA’s maintenance cost of $5.53 per bus mile was at least 64 percent higher, and as much as 199 percent higher, than the cost at the other eight agencies. We question whether it is necessary for the MTA’s bus maintenance costs to be so much higher than the costs at other comparable transportation agencies. We recommend that the MTA identify the reasons for this discrepancy and develop a plan to reduce its bus maintenance costs, which exceed $770 million in 2008.”

Ultimately, DiNapoli’s office recommends a series of items that seem almost banal by comparison but strike at the heart of the problem. DiNapoli recommends better communication and monitoring of bus inspections; better enforcing standards for mean distances between failures and improving those numbers; and identifying ways to save money on the ridiculously high costs of bus maintenance. It’s up to the MTA to identify and control those costs.

In reply, the MTA essentially agreed with DiNapoli’s findings. While they questioned some of the technical aspects of the bus reliability measures and the focus on mean distance between failures as a benchmark, the authority admitted that their costs are simply too high. “The MTA agrees that our bus maintenance program must deliver both reliability and cost effectiveness,” agency COO Charles Monheim wrote. “During the past year, we have undertaken a number of initiatives to reduce bus maintenance costs, and we will continue to seek further improvements while minimizing the impact on customer service.”

In its response, the authority alleged that the unique nature of New York’s bus system leads to these high costs. Because bus utilization is up to four times higher in New York than in other cities and because buses operate at low speeds and along routes with “poor road conditions,” they suffer a higher degree of wear and tear than similarly situated vehicles in other cities. Furthermore, because the MTA’s labor costs are nine to 122 percent higher than the other systems cited in DiNapoli’s report, the costs add up.

DiNapoli’s findings certainly aren’t comforting. Our buses seem to be taxed heavily, and it costs too much to maintain them. Shirking on inspections only serves to put passengers in harm’s way, and that’s bad news for everyone.

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pete January 28, 2011 - 2:35 am

I wonder what happens to the warranties on these shiny new hybrid buses now that their maker’s maintenance plan wasn’t followed?

Scott E January 28, 2011 - 7:29 am

“The MTA’s maintenance cost of $5.53 per bus mile was at least 64 percent higher, and as much as 199 percent higher, than the cost at the other eight agencies.”

Could this be because NYC roads have 64 to 199% more potholes?

JP January 28, 2011 - 7:43 am

So the MTA is too big and there’s too much to do and review, on the part of maintenance and inspection crews. The same thing was discovered with the subway inspections.

Or is it that they’re all just fully corrupt and lazy?

A combination of both maybe?

BrooklynBus January 28, 2011 - 10:17 am

I do not think they are all corrupt and lazy, and that the reason is not that they are too big either. Most people want to and do do a good job at least at the lower levels. I think the problem lies with communication and the lack of willingness to change, both of which are big problems at the MTA.

If you see a problem and then report it to your boss and he ignores you, there is pretty much nothing else you can do when you work for the MTA. When you try to go around him or solve the problem in another way, then you become the target and are considered the troublemaker. That’s just the way it is.

The people on top cannot be expected to know everything, and when communication doesn’t get to them or they are lied to which frequently happens, things start to go awry. Since the matters almost always involve a technical nature, if the person being lied to does not have actual first hand experience on the subject, he believes those lies. Things escalate until something blows, then the problem first gets the attention it deserves.

Sharon January 28, 2011 - 11:41 pm

This is a really simple problem to solve. All issued need to be logged by even the lowest level employee in a modern computer information system. MODERN is the key word. Such a system would allow managers at all levels of command to monitor what is going on. Such information should include video footage of depots and each buses on board diagnostics. Bleeding edge technology. NOPE it is rather mainstream.

“If you see a problem and then report it to your boss and he ignores you, there is pretty much nothing else you can do when you work for the MTA.”

This stuff does not happen anymore in well run companies. Information of what is going on is available to all and thus a pig headed field manager can not get away with as much

My buddy’s dad worded for a NYCT depot to remain un named . He spent more time sitting then working and when he worked he did fast and sloppy work and bragged about it.

For all those who want to say the mta’s size is the problem. BS, each depot is it’s own working unit. Companies such as UPS and FED EX run fleet larger than the mta spread across 6 continents . UPS employees are empowered plus all managers worked the lines

BrooklynBus January 29, 2011 - 2:48 pm

Sounds good but what do you do about the boss who instructs his employees not to input further information if the problem reoccurs, to keep him from looking bad. That way the problem seems to disappear, at least temporarily. Perhaps he his planning retirement in the following year and would rather pass the problem to his successor rather that dealing with it himself.

Too many people believe that all problems can be solved by just pouring more money into the system. That may solve some problems but not all. More attention needs to be paid to the social dynamics of the organization. To many departments are more interested in blaming each other when there are problems than working together to solve common goals.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines January 28, 2011 - 9:08 am

[…] DiNapoli Report Finds MTA Bus Inspections Late and Incomplete (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

Larry Littlefield January 28, 2011 - 9:28 am

Well, it seems to me that the logical response to the MTA bashfest is to turn over the buses — and the payroll tax revenues if they want to keep that tax — to NYC and the counties.

This would leave the MTA to operate the rails.

If NYC or the counties wanted to keep the fare media jointly with the MTA, they could. If they wanted to keep the free transfers, fine, but the revenues would be subway revenues, not bus revenues.

Larry Littlefield January 28, 2011 - 9:30 am

By the way, DiNapoli doesn’t understand the data.

FTA data is presented three ways, per passenger, per mile, and per revenue vehicle hour.

NYC has just about the lowest cost per passenger, but that’s because there are so many people on the bus.

NYC has a high cost per mile, but because its buses move slowly, and do more work requiring more people per mile.

Those who aren’t trying to distort things use cost per revenue vehicle hour.

Sharon January 28, 2011 - 11:47 pm

Data can always be interpreted many ways. Your interpretations are correct. Also the mta’s high ridership masks the poor management practices that drive up cost and unfair to riders union contracts. The mta could be run with a far smaller operating and capital deficit and far lower public subsidies. There is no reason with the mta ridership level for the amount of debt on the books considering all the CURRENT subsidies. The recent station agent reductions should have been done a decade ago. The role should have been changed to a security property protect role. Conductors should be phased out as well(with a second crew member on some trains as extra help security but not as dedicated door operators). Bridges and tunnels has been run as a luxury operation. The moving toll arms alone cost a ton to maintain. Port authority does not use them why did the mta keep them?

Larry Littlefield January 28, 2011 - 9:36 am

By the way, the FTA data, the last time I compiled it, is in spreadsheets attached to this post.


It includes all the rail systems in the country, all the large bus systems, and all the bus systems in NY.

I no longer do this any year, because the National Transit Database can’t be unzipped on a Mac which I now have at home, and my company’s security software blocks zipped files.

noah January 28, 2011 - 10:08 am

Inspections done correctly and timely, this is what our fare hike and our mta tax in the taxicabs are paying for.

BrooklynBus January 28, 2011 - 10:18 am

Not good news to read, but good article Ben. At least no disparaging remarks about DiNapoli this time.

Al D January 28, 2011 - 10:24 am

The riders, I suspect, are much more abusive to the buses here than in the other locations.

BrooklynBus January 28, 2011 - 12:03 pm

How so. unless you mean there are more of them? Graffiti on buses is not the problem it once was.

Larry Littlefield January 28, 2011 - 10:32 am

Corrupt? Lazy?

Our costs per revenue vehicle hour are higher because our costs per employee work our are higher. That’s what the FTA data says.

Data from the Census Bureau shows that the issue is no wages, at least for the transit system as a whole. It is the retired.

SEAN January 28, 2011 - 11:36 am

Several Bee-line drivers have commented to me how the busses in the city appear to be falling apart. One of them commented on how the MTA doesn’t maintain the busses as well as Westchester does. I agree with that sentiment. Infact I would say that busses in Nassau maybe even worse than the MTA on maintnance based on recent rides.

Henry James January 29, 2011 - 2:37 pm

Wow, that sounds like a lot of inspections, that means the each bus would have to be seen 27.2 times a year or 2.2 times a month. Multiply that by 6000 buses and that is 12,000 inspections a month. Do other agencies in the US perform as many inspections? Probably not, I guess that’s why its hard to get to so many on time, don’t forget they still have to do regular repairs. I guess the bad roads, slow speeds, numerous stops and high passenger counts really impact performance.
See the MTA’s response in the Auditors report, it references modern computer system and actions already taken.


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