Home Fulton Street Once more unto the Fulton St. Transit Center delay

Once more unto the Fulton St. Transit Center delay

by Benjamin Kabak

The Fulton St. Transit Hub, seen here last February, will open eventually. (Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin)

With three months left in a seven-year project, you’d think that the company — or in this case, agency — managing the project would have a good handle on how much time would be needed for completion. You would think that by announcing very publicly an opening date, the agency would do all it could do to meet that opening date. You would think that yet another delay in a project that was once expected, far too optimistically, to be completed six or seven years ago for 50 percent less than its current budget would be cause for major concern. And perhaps, in some circles it is. But right now, it’s just business as usual.

During its board committee meetings earlier this week, the MTA let slip that the Fulton St. Transit Center will not have its official opening on Thursday as planned in March. Instead, as I speculated last week, the opening will be delayed another 60-90 days. As components to this project open, completion then will come by the end of September.

So what is holding up the project? It couldn’t be that, as with the 7 line, the MTA can’t get a bunch of elevators to work, right? These aren’t even incline elevators; these are your typical up-and-down escalators that are in every tall building and were invented in 1852. Well, lo and behold: If we consult the materials released after Monday’s meetings, one of the outstanding items concerns the elevators. Six elevators have yet to be tested. The MTA also needs to obtain its Code Compliance Certificate and wrap up testing of its fire alarms and communications systems.

In its short assessment of the state of this project, the MTA’s Independent Engineering Consultant doesn’t have much to add on a specific level. The project has simply not met the requirements needed to be permitted to open yet, and it is but one of many outstanding MTA projects facing this issue. As a result, the IEC has urged the MTA to conduct a coordinated review of its megaprojects to “ensure resources can support their current schedules.” Even a cursory review — showing a three-month delay at Fulton St. and at least a year-long delay for the 7 line — cast more than just a shadow of doubt over any other schedules. A review could help shed light on the MTA’s finish line problem.

So we’ll wait for the politicians to slap their backs over a project with a tortured history. It began as an idea with a quick timeline for build out and a $700 million shortly after 9/11, and it has turned into a $1.4 billion transit hub across the street from a $4 billion transit hub at a time when building up would have made more sense fiscally than building a three-story mall. The station is nicer; the ADA compliant elements were badly needed; and transferring throughout Lower Manhattan is easier. Stumbling to the finish though is in line with the rest of this project’s problems. After all, the MTA’s house ads promising the opening of the Dey St. Passageway back in 2012 still hang in subway cars throughout the city.

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Abbal( June 24, 2014 - 11:47 pm

None of these projects is on time. At least Bustime though was finished,That was a crucial one.

Larry Littlefield June 25, 2014 - 8:53 am

Bustime failed multiple times and took an extra decade or so.

But here is the difference. The MTA had contracts that didn’t pay unless and until it worked.

Otherwise, the cost of the failures would have made it impossible for the MTA to persist until success.

Boris June 25, 2014 - 11:04 pm

There are three main reasons why BusTime succeeded where other projects failed (or cost exorbitant amounts of money).

One, the chairman pushed through a new group that went around the existing IT bureaucracy, and staffed it with people who actually want to work.

Two, the project was done with operating funds, not capital. It therefore circumvented many layers of red tape and existing groups that do nothing but sit on piles of money (again IT, and others).

Three, mainly due to the two reasons above, the project took a software engineering approach (figure out the basics first, have a quick prototype, then add bells and whistles) instead of the traditional civil engineering approach (plan where every last detail will go before putting the first shovel in). A limited budget ensured money was spent wisely and went to small contractors, instead of monopolies like Siemens. A “try before you buy” approach made it more palatable and errors more excusable.

In other words, the implementation of BusTime should be used to (re)teach MTA engineers how to work in the modern world. It should be the gold standard for all MTA projects.

barman July 1, 2014 - 2:57 pm

BusTime software was invented in Seattle as a student’s grad school project called One Bus Away. It’s essentially a hack that uses old radio infrastructure to estimate the position of a bus. It ended up working quite well and got funding and support from Seattle’s transit agencies.

MTA got lucky that One Bus Away could be easily adapted into BusTime, and the tech is being adopted by other cities as well.

Robbie42 June 24, 2014 - 11:59 pm

Maybe they’ll open in 59 days & they can say it’s “ahead of schedule”

BrooklynBus June 24, 2014 - 11:59 pm

You are correct. It’s business as usual. With all these delays on all these projects, you would think someone somewhere would be replaced for screwing something up. Yet no one is. Yes, sometimes some problems are unavoidable. But how could that be the case in so many instances?

The question is would this be tolerated in private industry or is it just government that functions this way?

Chris C June 25, 2014 - 4:59 am

Of course it happens in the private sector.

They just don’t have to disclose these things to the public like the MTA has too.

And remember whilst this is a public project it is being built by the private sector yet they don’t get the blame for the delays.

BrooklynBus June 25, 2014 - 8:35 am

I wasn’t asking if delays happen in te private sector. I am sure try do. My question was whether there is more accountability there when it does happen.

anon_coward June 25, 2014 - 8:54 am

any big engineering project you can expect the machinery not to work right and problems to be worked out in getting it to work

Larry Littlefield June 25, 2014 - 8:55 am

Yes there is more accountability.

The CEO is forced to leave with a $20 million payout.

The shareholders, including retirement savers and pension funds, see their stock value fall.

And the employees get laid off because the cost of the disaster made the company less competitive relative to its competitors.

Spendmor Wastemor June 25, 2014 - 9:35 am

And once the company finally reaches accountability through the marketplace and goes bankrupt, it’s bailed out by the taxpayers.

Bolwerk June 25, 2014 - 10:24 am

Well, only if it’s lucky enough to be big enough to mean something to the 1‰. Something like 75% of private sector businesses fail in three years. Difficulty managing labor is a pretty big reason.

Larry Littlefield June 25, 2014 - 12:37 pm

Those I know who have their own businesses say getting customers is the big deal. In the private sector, if a worker doesn’t do the job, you get someone else. The workers rule — as customers.

Not so in the public sector.

Bolwerk June 25, 2014 - 1:04 pm

Hiring incompetent workers may not be as hard as dispensing with incompetent management, but there is plenty of dead wood in the private sector too.

Bolwerk June 25, 2014 - 1:06 pm


Phantom June 25, 2014 - 3:39 pm

In my field, we get rid of dead wood, systematically.

In government, they don’t.

Bolwerk June 25, 2014 - 5:57 pm

And your field is representative of the entire private sector how?

Phantom June 26, 2014 - 6:17 am

In the private sector, there is a report card called ” profit and loss “.

If you don’t get rid of dead wood, you fall behind competitors, and shareholders can lose money.

There are many report cards comparing public companies with each other.

Amd even if no dead wood was removed in the private sector, only the shareholders would be the loser. When the many slothful public workers continue to collect a check all of us are harmed.

Where are the report cards comparing public sector workforce / government productivity among states / big cities? Or comparing dead wood removal among all entities?

Bolwerk June 26, 2014 - 11:57 am

I’m not aware of any comparisons. But I don’t see any convincing evidence that public sector workers are less productive either. I know there is less turnover in the public sector, but they are presumably also subjected to more objective and rigorous scrutiny (e.g., civil service exams) when they’re hired.

The whole matter seems like another case of people being horrified by what the news says with little grasp on the implications of trends and outcomes.

Amd even if no dead wood was removed in the private sector, only the shareholders would be the loser

That’s not true at all. The private sector provides tax revenues, so inefficiencies in many ways have worse implications. At least for state and local governments. A firm failing means unemployment claims, medicaid claims, etc., on top of lost revenue.

And it wasn’t that long ago that the conduct in a certain segment of the private sector kneecapped the world economy.

Nathanael June 27, 2014 - 11:53 am

Phantom: most big companies listed on the stock market couldn’t care less about how the stockholders do… they only care about whether the CEO has managed to extract the maximum amount of money possible before moving on, locust-like, to the next company.

It’s a problem. Do you see any similarities to the career of Governor Cuomo? (For “stockholders”, substitute “voters”.)

AG June 27, 2014 - 12:54 pm

Nathaniel – shareholders can vote out a board of directors who can certainly force out a CEO. You better believers hey have to cater to shareholders!

Bolwerk June 27, 2014 - 1:37 pm

shareholders can vote out a board of directors who can certainly force out a CEO. You better believers hey have to cater to shareholders!

In theory this is true, but in practice it almost never happens with publicly listed companies in the USA.

AG June 27, 2014 - 2:37 pm

Bolwerk – the founder of men’s warehouse was just forced out not too long ago- simply bc the board didn’t like him. It’s not rare either for “activist investors” to force out leaders. It even happened at Disney. It indeed does happen.

Nathanael July 4, 2014 - 3:16 pm

AG: you’re living in a fantasy world. I’ve been involved in stock ownership for nearly 4 decades.

The occasional company can have its CEO forced out by corporate raiders. Most can’t; they have aggressive anti-takeover provisions, including “poison pills” which give the CEO lots of stock if anyone tries it.

But more importantly, if the CEO does get forced out, the CEO usually walks off with a golden parachute and doesn’t really care.

Widely-held corporations are NOT responsive to stockholders. Period. I know a lot more about this than you do.

The exception is when a very small group of people (less than 5) controls an outright majority of the stock; then they do have control. They usually also make one of their own CEO, of course.

AG July 4, 2014 - 6:38 pm

Nathaneal – we’ve never met – so you can’t possibly tell me what you know more than me. In any event… CEO’s come and go all the time. The govern according to the stock price. If the stock price drops or doesn’t go the way the market expects – most will get forced out. For you to claim they are as inefficient as the MTA – with no repercussion makes me question if you know as much as you think. Look at Twitter last week alone. You know why they had those shake-ups? Personality as the market questions what their next move (in terms of strategy) is going to be. You seriously are trying say the MTA (or any government agency) is the same? I’m not even saying the markets are always efficient… but to think most are anywhere near a sluggard as the MTA is more than strange.
Yeah – you gave a perfect example of cable and phone companies. Well Time Warner Cable stinks – hence they are being bought out by Comcast. Nook isn’t doing so well – Barnes & Noble splits off the company and partners it with Samsung. Are you seriously telling me there is any type of movement such as this with the MTA? The MTA would have been out of business a long time ago.

Bolwerk July 5, 2014 - 10:14 pm

Anecdotes again. Yes, CEOs can be pressured out by market/personal/career factors (not all of them bad). But what you mentioned,

shareholders can vote out a board of directors who can certainly force out a CEO. You better believers hey have to cater to shareholders!

more or less never happens. When it does happen, it’s usually either because of severe financial distress or what Nathanael mentioned, corporate raiders, and the latter typically sniffs out the former.

Also, you are misunderstanding what went down at Men’s Wearhouse. The board was pissed off at the chairman. That’s quite different from an uprising of shareholders voting boardmembers out.

AG July 6, 2014 - 10:12 pm

You’re responding to two different ppl. I’m not “Phantom”
As to what I said – there is a complex world involved. The average person who owns any shares does so through pensions or 401k’s or other institutional investors. Those managers hold tremendous sway. If you really think that’s not what was behind what happened at Men’s Warehouse – then oh well.

Bolwerk July 7, 2014 - 12:23 am

I was responding to the posts after my post here, but related it back to the comment here (by AG) about shareholder power. I don’t see Phantom saying anything since before that point.

Either way, at Men’s Wearhouse the managers won, a manager won anyway, so it’s not an example of what you think it’s an example of. It was a board room spat that erupted from a conflict with the CEO. The chairman/founder, who I believe led the board, lost a fight with the CEO, who in theory works for the board.

To salt the wound, the chairman actually seemed to be taking a position against the types of grifter behavior that corporate America pulls. If you are looking for an example of a shareholder coup, you’re looking in the wrong place.

AG July 7, 2014 - 5:36 pm

You don’t get what I’m saying. Those companies in that stratosphere only care about share price. Share price and share price alone. Good or bad. They will do anything not to upset share price.
If you really think there was no outside influence – that’s fine – but it’s not reality.

Bolwerk July 7, 2014 - 11:44 pm

I never said there weren’t “outside influences,” but such is a far cry from shareholders exerting or even being able to exert much in the way of direct control when things go bad. Board [s]elections can take months.

And what you’re saying about large firms only caring about share prices – well, maybe things would be better if that were true, because at least then gouging shareholders would be harder, but it’s not. Investors care about return on investment and managers are often incentivized to care about their own compensation package at the expense of the investor.

Stock price is nearly meaningless, and a smaller stock price is beneficial to many big firms. Even high-cap M$ and WalMart like their stock prices low-ish.

AG June 27, 2014 - 1:01 pm

Larry the vast majority of private sector companies are not listed on any stock exchange. Most engineering firms would fit in that category. I can assure you that the vast majority of them would go out of business very quickly if they operated like the MTA. In fact most private sector companies that are started never make it to 5 years. Incompetence is rarely left as is.

Nathanael July 4, 2014 - 3:20 pm

Unlisted, privately held firms (outside monopolistic/cartel sectors) do frequently have a much stronger discipline, yes. That is true.

They are quite a different matter from Corporate America. The MTA, a giant, sprawling enterprise, is a lot more like the Fortune 500 monopolists and cartels which dominate a bit under half the economy.

Why is it similar? Well, it’s a natural monopoly industry. Look at private industry in similar natural-monopoly sectors (telephone, cable TV) and you often find similarly poor management.

Thomas Graves June 26, 2014 - 11:47 am

Of course this would never be tolerated in private industry. But more to the point, it wouldn’t be tolerated in a lot of other cities, either. The level of corruption and incompetence in the MTA’s projects is an order of magnitude larger than any other transit agency I can think of. But New Yorkers are so accustomed to it they barely notice. Compare Transport of London, the Paris subway authority, or Tokyo Metropolitan/Municipal Subway. NY projects generally cost at least twice as much for the same thing, and take twice (or three times) as long. Yeah, there are all the excuses: “NY is so dense”; “the system is so old”, or “it’s technologically complex”, but other global cities have their own unique difficulties. The bottom line is the MTA (and NY government) is totally disfunctional, and no one cares.

Nathanael June 27, 2014 - 11:42 am

—>But more to the point, it wouldn’t be tolerated in a lot of other cities, either.<—

This. In other cities mayors and city councils get thrown out for stuff like this. You don't have to look far. Even in *Rochester* this has happened in living memory.

Nathanael June 27, 2014 - 11:54 am

…but of course the structure of the MTA means it isn’t directly accountable to the mayor, or the city council. Or the governor, for that matter.

The buck stops nowhere.

John-2 June 25, 2014 - 8:29 am

I also noticed on another board that the Times is reporting the SAS apparently is having some added problems in the 72nd Street area that could threaten it’s scheduled opening. It’s really gotten to the point the state should think about granting the MTA the ability to go outside the contractor bid list and hire some company with a record of on-time completions, even if they wouldn’t be a low bidder on the project (and you are allowed to reject low bidders, if those companies have past histories of repeated change orders and cost overruns on similar projects).

BrooklynBus June 25, 2014 - 8:44 am

No one forces the MTA to accept the low bidder. Low bidders can be rejected for a variety of reasons and it is not unusual to reject the low bidder and take the second lowest bidder. I don’t think going outside the contractor bid list would make any difference. Usually, any qualified bidder is already on the approved list. The problem is that there is very little competition since the list for major construction projects isn’t very big to begin with and it is always the same few companies who are bidding.

There are always change orders. Some are unavoidable because not everything can e predicted. I think a bigger problem is the MTA constantly changing their mind on what they want done which is a prime cause of cost overruns and delays. East Side Access is a prime example.

Benjamin Kabak June 25, 2014 - 9:40 am

The problem is that there is very little competition since the list for major construction projects isn’t very big to begin with and it is always the same few companies who are bidding.

We should say this over and over again. It’s one of the biggest problems. There just aren’t enough countries qualified to do this work.

Spendmor Wastemor June 25, 2014 - 10:03 am

We should look into why there are so few bids; what does the state do to discourage the rest of the world from bidding?

Perhaps only a portion of the labor should be local; the rest can be quartered on a barge/old cruise ship. Work can be done right if the **&% is cleared out and the right people are brought in.

CALTRANS needed a highway overpass rebuilt after some event, earthquake or tanker truck fire. They needed it back in service to get traffic moving and knew they couldn’t get it done on time themselves.
CALTRANS estimated it would take three months and offered bonus payments for every day it was delivered early, and waived all the *&#^ rules, no X number of women steelworkrs, blah blah. They wanted road engineering, not social engineering.

Winning bid: A company from the South bid less than a third of CALTRANS’ estimate, betting they could do it so much faster than the estimate yet still pass CA’s inspections that they’d get paid based on the early completion bonus. They drove up with their own crew, all of whom knew each other and had the right attitude, worked 24/7 with zero screwups.
The overpass was completed in something like 12 days, iirc.

Yes things can be done right. You need the right people, the right attitude, then hands OFF!

(All from memory, can’t find a link)

John-2 June 25, 2014 - 1:14 pm

The 1994 Northridge quake — It took out the State Highway 14 overpass with I-5 northwest of Los Angeles. Not only did they speed-rush the contract to rebuild the overpass, they did the same thing with Caltrans’ plan to run communter rail service to the Antelope Valley of Northern Los Angeles County (original time estimate to build the line — 7-10 years. Actual time after the quake to get service to Palmdale and Lancaster to make up for Highway 14 being closed, including the temporary wooden stations — one week).

The post-Sandy restoration of cross-river subway service was similar, as was the slightly longer time period it took to get Upper South Ferry going again (in part because the feds allowed the MTA to waive ADA rules). You obviously can’t build lines in 2014 the same way you built them in 1914 due to more rules on worker safety and passenger accessibility and the fact there is just more infrastructure to work around, but (as noted here two days ago), once you ad a sense of urgency to an MTA project, you do seem to get the speed you’d hope every MTA project could have.

Simon June 27, 2014 - 8:51 am

After Sandy, the MTA also rebuilt an entire commuter rail line in a matter of months. How can we apply that urgency to every project?

AG June 27, 2014 - 3:02 pm

But that’s just it. It only happens after a disaster. Other than that – politics/unions want a status quo

Alon Levy June 27, 2014 - 4:05 pm

Yeah, these diversity requirements are awful. Look at the New York sandhogs in this picture – they’re all male, and all white except one black guy, and that’s how they work so fast and so efficiently. Women and minorities just slow everything down, I’m glad New York doesn’t go for that lieberal nonsense.

Eric June 29, 2014 - 3:39 am

Diversity requirements don’t mean that the workforce is actually diverse. They mean that a white guy appoints a minority female figurehead to run his company on paper so that they can be considered for contracts. Basically just another level of corruption.

Bolwerk June 30, 2014 - 4:24 pm

Usually mandatory diversity requirements mean a company/organization has a major problem with chauvinism. In the absence of a court finding of disparate treatment (A) or some kind of indefensible adverse impact (B), there typically there are no diversity requirements.*

(A) Disparate treatment can mean treating a person or group differently because of race or gender or whatever. In the vast majority of circumstances treating people differently for any reason is verboten. In this sort of case, the burden of proof is on the employee or group of employees claiming they are being treated (adversely) differently.

(B) Adverse impact might be legally defensible or indefensible, and needs to be rationally related to the requirements of the job. The burden of proofs shifts to the company to prove the impact is rationally related to the job. Many women might be disqualified from service in a fire department because they don’t have the requisite physical strength to carry equipment up several flights of stairs. Women therefore suffer an adverse impact, but it might not be an illegal one.

OTOH, adverse impact recently bit several northeastern fire departments in the ass. For some reason their selection methods needlessly excluded many non-white males.

* But obviously organizations want to head off problems, so they might try to tailor selection methods to preclude such claims.

Boris June 25, 2014 - 11:13 pm

The thing is, once you accept a bidder, you are stuck with it, low or not. The bidding company becomes a monopoly, and the contracts are written in such a way that it’s virtually impossible to switch to another contractor at some point in the future. Two exceptions: subway cars (the order for R160s was split between Kawasaki and Alstom to avoid depending on a single contractor) and BusTime (multiple vendors doing hardware installs; software is open source and/or in-house). But the exceptions prove the rule – most MTA contracts are written to avoid low prices and on-time delivery.

BrooklynBus June 26, 2014 - 9:08 am

Not true. You are definitely not stuck with the low bidder. I also disagree that most contracts are written to avoid low prices and on-time delivery. Where are you getting your information from or are you just making stuff up?

I worked in the Contracts Dvision for three years in the 1980s and worked on writing many contracts. They were written to obtain low prices and on-time delivery with high liquidated damages, just the opposite of what you said. The problem is not the contracts.

The MTA also tried hard to encourage new vendors. Most of the Contract Overhaul work went to M-K. The TA tried very hard and got Sumitomo and GE involved. GE lost money and swore they would never bid again on another contract, although their work was good. We tried a different company for the 44 Staten Island cars, Newport News Shipbuilding. They answered the questions correctly at the qualification hearing and was the low bidder, so the contract was awarded to them. But they couldn’t do the work. They weren’t delivering any cars and ultimately defaulted. We then awarded the contract to the second lowest bidder, M-K, so we weren’t stuck with the low bidder as you stated, just delayed a year.

David Brown June 25, 2014 - 8:37 am

The difference between the Public Sector and Private Sector, are twofold. 1: In the Private Sector there is much more accountability when it comes to Financing Projects and for Production. i.e. People lose their jobs, if there are financial mistakes and (or) Poor Output. In the Public Sector, try getting rid of MTA Bureaucrats or Teachers. 2: In the Private Sector they realize that there is not an infinite supply of Capital, and that Time actually matters (unlike the East Side Access).
Until the attitudes of our elected “Leaders” towards “Entitlements” and “Bottomless Pits” change, little will change and that everyone (except the entrenched few), will lose. Why do I say little instead of none? Because good luck getting Washington to help with SAS Phases 3 & 4.

BrooklynBus June 25, 2014 - 8:45 am

That is what I suspected.

Nathanael June 27, 2014 - 11:44 am

I have seen no evidence of accountability in the private sector whatsoever.

I refer here to large Fortune 500 companies. Bankrupt the company, get a $50 million golden parachute.

There is accountability in *small* companies. But then, there’s accountability in *small* city governments, too.

Alon Levy June 27, 2014 - 9:34 pm

And yet small town mayors run their cities like their personal fiefs.

AG June 28, 2014 - 10:14 am

From what I’ve seen small town governments are even more easily corrupted. Often the public offices become like a “family business”. They just don’t spend billions on infrastructure… They cheat or falter on things like road repaving and the “easy” things.

Nathanel June 30, 2014 - 6:00 pm

What sort of small towns are you talking about? *Really* small towns? I’ve heard stories that Lisle, NY (village population: 320) is under the control of one family.

By contrast, every single municipality in Tompkins County seems to be quite above-board. Even a hint of corruption or self-dealing, or even arbitrariness and capriciousness, gets mayors and council members thrown out.

Our towns, villages, and city in Tompkins County are significantly larger than places like Lisle, but not large enough to have developed thick insulating layers of bureaucracy to prevent accountability.

There may be an optimal government unit size; it would be an interesting area of study, vaguely akin to optimal trade area theory.

Eric June 29, 2014 - 3:41 am

I’ve had co-workers fired for incompetence. That’s evidence of accountability in the private sector. Unfortunately, it does not work well at the very highest levels, but it’s still better than many parts of the public sector.

Benjamin Kabak June 25, 2014 - 9:38 am

The MTA bureaucrats can be fired easily as they’re not unionized, but that doesn’t address accountability.

BrooklynBus June 25, 2014 - 4:58 pm

They can but they are not. When was the last time an MTA bigwig was fired for incompetence? What happens is when they feel the shit is about to hit the fan, they accept another lucrative post to screw up somewhere else. They claim everything was fine when they left and the new guy blames his predecessor. If he can’t dig himself out of the mess, then he leaves also in a year or two. How many different heads of East Side Access has there been?

If someone were actually fired, and I don’t mean a scapegoat, but the real reason responsible, and everyone knew they would have to perform or else, and shitting blame to other departments won’t cut it, then there would be some accountability.

Bolwerk June 25, 2014 - 10:11 am

The higher financing costs and generally high failure rate of private sector firms would suggest otherwise.

BoerumHillScott June 25, 2014 - 8:52 am

I walked though this morning, and while there is progress being made, there are many, many items that are obviously unfinished, not just elevators.

They could still get it finished in 60 days, but it will take a lot of work.

Spendmor Wastemor June 25, 2014 - 9:41 am


You seem to have some knowledge of how this works.

How much is caused by deliberate incompetence — hiring the firm that hired one’s idiot cousin as a VP,
how much by corruption — hiring the firm that contributed to one’s campaign/retirement fund,
and how much from competent corruption; the firm is paid for time and ‘unforseen’ events, and so it finds a need for more time and experiences many ‘unforseen’ events?

I think it comes down to NYS being a corrupt state getting the government it deserves, and then feeling no consequences as the Feds pick up the bill.

Or is there something else going on?

Bolwerk June 25, 2014 - 1:06 pm

Just how much do the feds pick up the bill? Have you seen how much more the feds take from us than we get back?

Larry Littlefield June 25, 2014 - 12:42 pm

“How much is caused by deliberate incompetence — hiring the firm that hired one’s idiot cousin as a VP, how much by corruption — hiring the firm that contributed to one’s campaign/retirement fund, and how much from competent corruption; the firm is paid for time and ‘unforseen’ events, and so it finds a need for more time and experiences many ‘unforseen’ events?”

Old fashioned corruption doesn’t affect anything big. It has been driven to the margins of government. At the MTA, the last big incident was in the real estate office no one paid attention to.

Instead, what you have is groups who have worked the system for “very good deals” for themselves, which they describe as “fair” but which they would never accept from others when they go shopping. A court system that enforces these “rights.”

“I think it comes down to NYS being a corrupt state getting the government it deserves, and then feeling no consequences as the Feds pick up the bill.”

There are plenty of consequences. But mostly as a result of what goes on up in Albany, much of which (like what shrewd people do on Wall Street) is immoral but not illegal or at least not provable.

Nathanael June 27, 2014 - 11:47 am

Most of what happened on Wall Street in the last few years was *actually criminal* — they’ve gotten away with it by bribing the prosecutors not to prosecute, mostly.

By contrast, Albany legislators sure do know how to write the laws, and Joe Bruno’s crew carefully made sure that every unethical thing he did in the State Senate was legal under state law.

AG June 27, 2014 - 3:27 pm

Actuall it was basically all legal. The legislative branch writes the laws. Who do you think most if their college mates were? They are all friends. No judges needed to be bribed.

Nathanel June 30, 2014 - 6:11 pm

Uh, look up foreclosure fraud.

It was blatantly illegal, and it’s still going on.

The banks failed to register the mortgages & notes with the local governments (illegal), occasionally shredded them (Countrywide did this), then asserted ownership without having the notes or mortgages (illegal), transferred the (nonexistent) mortgage notes into “trusts”, sold off shares in the trusts to investors (securities fraud), then filed for foreclosure with no proof of ownership of the mortgage (illegal), filed false statements claiming personal knowledge of the state of the mortgage accounts (perjury among other things), and when caught, hired people at low wages to forge mortgage documents (illegal), and had them signed by people pretending to be corporate officers who weren’t, and notarized by people who had never seen them being signed (illegal robosigning).

There’s a document fabrication (forgery) manual published by “DocX”, a company which advertised its “services” (forged documents) to banks and was used by most of them. And there’s another document fabrication (forgery) manual used internally by Wells Fargo.

I haven’t even mentioned the illegal application of bogus fees to the mortgage (fees which were not in the mortgage documents, and were entirely made-up). This was generally done by servicing companies for the purpose of inducing foreclosures.

Then there’s the violations of bankruptcy stay orders and the misallocation of payments — Wells Fargo got fined $3 million in punitive damages for this in one case alone, and it turns out it’s systematically programmed into their computers.

Yes, most of what the banks were doing was illegal. *Extremely* illegal. You just haven’t researched it.

The key case to look at is the Ibanez case in Massachussetts, where the state supreme court ruled that the bank trying to foreclose had no legal or equitable interest in the property at all. The facts of that case are actually *typical*.

There are even worse cases where banks attempted to foreclose on people who didn’t even have mortgages (and then broke into their houses, drained their water, stole their goods, and stole their pets), but those are thankfully somewhat rarer. (Somewhat!!!)

We had a similar ruling in New York State, and so the illegal foreclosures have mostly stopped in MA and NY. They continue across the rest of the country, where the courts have been much less willing to stop flagrant illegality.

Nathanel June 30, 2014 - 6:15 pm

Foreclosure fraud isn’t the only major ongoing criminal operation at the major banks, it’s just the most impressive.

They also run the MBNA fraud (pretending that they haven’t received credit card payments), violate the law about application of debits and credits in order, engage in front-running in their brokerage divisions, and all *kinds* of other stuff.

And as for “bribing the prosecutors not to prosecute” — well, it might be more accurate to say that they threatened the prosecutors with “COLLAPSE OF THE FINANCIAL SYSTEM!!!” if the prosecutors actually prosecuted them for their crimes.

They have been given slaps on the wrist (“plea bargain” deals where they don’t admit guilt, and where the amount they pay is smaller than the amount they made on the illegal activity) for almost all of their crimes, by both federal and state prosecutors.

Frank June 25, 2014 - 7:18 pm

Private companies are held directly accountable to their largest shareholders, which means keeping the stock price up and perhaps providing other benefits. That can, but certainly does not always, correlate with running a company well. It often does not correlate with the public interest. Their accountability to their customers is indirect and if they can lock in a customer or develop an oligopoly situation, their customers have less leverage than one might think.

As for the MTA, there is only indirect accountability because the MTA board is appointed in a process that nobody pays attention to or cares about, and which allows the elected officials who appoint them to disclaim responsibility. New York has had this problem for a long time with unelected authorities. Considering the power it holds, the MTA should be an elected body–or at least its chair should be elected and have to face the voters. That is how accountability works in a democracy.

Nathanael June 27, 2014 - 11:48 am

Only companies with dominant shareholders are accountable to the largest shareholders.

Most companies on the stock market are run by their CEOs, who mostly loot the company and run.

The MTA board system has a lot of the same structural problems of a company listed on the stock market.

Nathanael June 27, 2014 - 11:48 am

(In short, total mayoral control of the system would probably help a lot.)

JJ July 3, 2014 - 9:03 pm Reply
lawhawk June 25, 2014 - 8:48 pm

I mentioned this in the last thread, but it bears repeating here. The contracts for Fulton Center apparently listed a completion date of December, so the contractors and the MTA will get to claim that they’re ahead of schedule for opening, even though the MTA has been promising that they’ll be open this week (or 3 months from now).

The issue is that the contract completion date and the date the MTA has announced for completion aren’t one in the same. That’s due to publicity, money, and other issues (like realizing that certificates of use/occupancy need to be completed, equipment tested and certified, etc.)

It doesn’t get to the costs, but I’ve seen that part of the reason that costs are what they are is that the MTA and other public agencies have outsourced engineering to such an extent that they don’t have the capabilities in house to evaluate the scope/extent of projects and can’t do design in-house, and when combined with the design-build philosophy, you get firms that are able to gouge the agencies and taxpayers in the process.

There’s no easy fixes to the cost issue, not when there’s a significant amount of consolidation in the construction industry and there isn’t a whole lot of competition.

For major projects, you’re looking at Skanska, Dragados ACS, Fluor, Tutor Perini, and a handful of others. That’s it – and often they’re doing joint bids for the work because of the size/scope of the work. They might sub out to other firms, but it’s often the same group of companies doing all the work, regardless of the quality, costs, time, etc.

Patel June 26, 2014 - 12:09 pm

MTACC executive were actually told by many parties from consultants, to contractors from their own in house MTA staff that they would NOT make the deadline months and months ago. It fell on deaf ears.

JD June 26, 2014 - 6:50 pm

In the month leading up to the scheduled opening date for the Fulton Street Transit Center there was suddenly a lot of workers onsite to complete finishes. Did anyone else notice that Monday afternoon, after they announced a delay, most of those workers went away and it was back to the minimum which has become “normal” on that project. Just get everyone in there and finish the damn thing.

David July 31, 2014 - 4:54 pm

My observations exactly!

Nathanael June 27, 2014 - 12:16 pm

So, from those on the ground there, what all is open?

Graham June 28, 2014 - 10:06 pm

I’m slightly bemused with this. Firstly what do Bikies have to do with the US construction industry.

And for an example that even in places where there is not a good relationship between the powers that be and the unions, things can get done.


Now, I admit there is no tunnelling (& no plans to continue extending the line further north yet.), but they’re looking to open three months earlier than they planned.

Of course it could just mean that the place is full of bugs that take three months from opening to fix them, but I’m willing to be an optimist.

David July 31, 2014 - 4:53 pm

I am late to this thread, but I find this delay reprehensible. Not so much that there is a delay, but the fact that, with much fanfare, they were tauting in April the official opening 3 months hence. All anyone had to do was walk into the structure and look around to determine there was no way in h3ll that they could finish it by June 26th. Here we are more than a month after they announced the delay and you can still see there is so very much more to do. I would be shocked at late September opening. They havent even managed to get the standard escalators running yet. It seems apparent that the people at MTA Capital Projects are not keeping their eyes on this one. If they had, they wouldnt have made the announcement of the June 26th opening. I’m just disappointed that none of the mainstream media outlets have picked up on this story.

David August 14, 2014 - 9:06 am

And now all the ground level windows and doors have been covered with white plastic (with a Fulton Center logo) to replace the craftpaper that had been covering the windows. I guess they really dont want people to see the little that’s being done in there. The fact that they felt the need to cover-up means there will not be public access for some time.

Yesterday however, it did look a number of engineers were checking out the escalator at Bway & Fulton. This has sat blocked off, and not-operating for months.

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