Home MTA Construction Inside The Times’ deep dive into the factors behind the MTA’s massive cost problems

Inside The Times’ deep dive into the factors behind the MTA’s massive cost problems

by Benjamin Kabak

The world’s most expensive subway construction project opened a year ago. Can the MTA take the steps needed for cost reform? (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Why do New York rail construction projects cost so much? In essence, with a $5-$6 billion tag attached to Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway on the horizon (let alone the recent politicking over the fate of the Gateway Tunnel), this is the big question plaguing New York. With limited dollars not going nearly as far as they do the world over, the MTA’s cost problems are a significant barrier to New York City transit expansion.

For years, those watching the MTA have rung the alarm on the agency’s high construction costs. I’ve written about cost concerns and the ever-increasing budgets for big-ticket MTA capital projects for years, and I’m not alone. Alon Levy has, since this post in 2011, charted the absurd costs of U.S. rail construction in detailed comparisons with international peers, and Stephen Smith, via the @MarketUrbanism twitter feed, has beaten the cost drum. When challenged, MTA officials have acknowledged that construction costs, but no one has tackled the twin issues of cost transparency and cost control. No one, that is, until last week, when The Times ran a massive front-page story charting all the reasons why NYC transit construction are so high.

As the finale in the series that started with an in-depth look at our unfolding transit crisis, Brian Rosenthal, with help from Doris Burke and Alain Delaquérière, has done what the MTA or the New York State Comptroller should have done years ago: They scrutinized MTA spending and took a deep dive into the agency’s contracting practices, staffing policies and lack of productivity in a way that lays bare just how bad the MTA is at managing big-ticket construction projects or getting a good return on its dollar. The article is, essentially, the story of how institutionalized corruption has become the norm in New York City. I highly urge you to read the entire piece and peruse through my instant reaction Twitter thread from Friday. I’ll excerpt a bit here.

First, the lede in which no one knows what 200 people are doing as part of the East Side Access project, a $12.5 billion project that costs, as The Times notes, seven times more than similar work elsewhere:

An accountant discovered the discrepancy while reviewing the budget for new train platforms under Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

The budget showed that 900 workers were being paid to dig caverns for the platforms as part of a 3.5-mile tunnel connecting the historic station to the Long Island Rail Road. But the accountant could only identify about 700 jobs that needed to be done, according to three project supervisors. Officials could not find any reason for the other 200 people to be there.

“Nobody knew what those people were doing, if they were doing anything,” said Michael Horodniceanu, who was then the head of construction at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs transit in New York. The workers were laid off, Mr. Horodniceanu said, but no one figured out how long they had been employed. “All we knew is they were each being paid about $1,000 every day.”

At the outset, the article blames everyone and dives in from there. I haven’t seen a more succinct summary of the MTA’s problems than this excerpt:

Trade unions, which have closely aligned themselves with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other politicians, have secured deals requiring underground construction work to be staffed by as many as four times more laborers than elsewhere in the world, documents show.
Construction companies, which have given millions of dollars in campaign donations in recent years, have increased their projected costs by up to 50 percent when bidding for work from the M.T.A., contractors say. Consulting firms, which have hired away scores of M.T.A. employees, have persuaded the authority to spend an unusual amount on design and management, statistics indicate.

Public officials, mired in bureaucracy, have not acted to curb the costs. The M.T.A. has not adopted best practices nor worked to increase competition in contracting, and it almost never punishes vendors for spending too much or taking too long, according to inspector general reports.

At the heart of the issue is the obscure way that construction costs are set in New York. Worker wages and labor conditions are determined through negotiations between the unions and the companies, none of whom have any incentive to control costs. The transit authority has made no attempt to intervene to contain the spending.

Meanwhile, when faced with the conclusions of The Times’ reporting, the MTA pointed to its favorite bogeyman — New York exceptionalism. Projects cost a lot in New York because things are expensive. MTA Chairman Joe Lhota pointed at ” aging utilities, expensive land, high density, strict regulations and large ridership requiring big stations.” In the reporters’ fact-based world, none of this would fly:

But the contractors said the other issues cited by the M.T.A. were challenges that all transit systems face. Density is the norm in cities where subway projects occur. Regulations are similar everywhere. All projects use the same equipment at the same prices. Land and other types of construction do not cost dramatically more in New York. Insurance costs more but is only a fraction of the budget. The M.T.A.’s stations have not been bigger (nor deeper) than is typical. “Those sound like cop-outs,” said Rob Muley, an executive at the John Holland engineering firm who has worked in Hong Kong and Singapore and visited the East Side Access project, after hearing Mr. Lhota’s reasons.

In Paris, which has famously powerful unions, the review found the lower costs were the result of efficient staffing, fierce vendor competition and scant use of consultants. In some ways, M.T.A. projects have been easier than work elsewhere. East Side Access uses an existing tunnel for nearly half its route. The hard rock under the city also is easy to blast through, and workers do not encounter ancient sites that need to be protected. “They’re claiming the age of the city is to blame?” asked Andy Mitchell, the former head of Crossrail, a project to build 13 miles of subway under the center of London, a city built 2,000 years ago. “Really?”

So what makes MTA projects cost so much? One answer is overstaffing. As I have detailed before, the MTA staffs upwards of 25 people on TBM projects while most other nations use around 10 for similar work. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg:

The documents reveal a dizzying maze of jobs, many of which do not exist on projects elsewhere. There are “nippers” to watch material being moved around and “hog house tenders” to supervise the break room. Each crane must have an “oiler,” a relic of a time when they needed frequent lubrication. Standby electricians and plumbers are to be on hand at all times, as is at least one “master mechanic.” Generators and elevators must have their own operators, even though they are automatic. An extra person is required to be present for all concrete pumping, steam fitting, sheet metal work and other tasks.

In New York, “underground construction employs approximately four times the number of personnel as in similar jobs in Asia, Australia, or Europe,” according to an internal report by Arup, a consulting firm that worked on the Second Avenue subway and many similar projects around the world. That ratio does not include people who get lost in the sea of workers and get paid even though they have no apparent responsibility, as happened on East Side Access.

And then of course there is good old fashioned featherbedding. As Rosenthal details, the Sandhogs’ union gets a free perk just because the MTA uses TBMs, a technology that has been employed to dig subways for the better part of 50 or 60 years. As he writes, “One part of Local 147’s deal entitles the union to $450,000 for each tunnel-boring machine used. That is to make up for job losses from ‘technological advancement,’ even though the equipment has been standard for decades.”

Besides the obvious institutionalized corruption and back-patting, Rosenthal details how the MTA’s own practices lead to significantly higher costs. This is a key part:

Mr. Lhota, the M.T.A. chairman, agreed that leaving negotiations to unions and vendors may be problematic. “You’re right; in many ways, there’s this level of connection between the two,” he said. But the chairman said he did not know what could be done about it. Hiring nonunion labor is legal but not politically realistic for the M.T.A. The transit authority could get unions to agree to project-specific labor deals, but it has not.

The profit percentage taken by vendors also is itself a factor in the M.T.A.’s high costs. In other parts of the world, companies bidding on transit projects typically add 10 percent to their estimated costs to account for profit, overhead and change orders, contractors in five continents said. Final profit is usually less than 5 percent of the total project cost, which is sufficient given the size of the projects, the contractors said.

Things are much different in New York. In a series of interviews, dozens of M.T.A. contractors described how vendors routinely increase their estimated costs when bidding for work. First, the contractors said, the vendors add between 15 and 25 percent as an “M.T.A. Factor” because of how hard it can be to work within the bureaucracy of the transit authority. Then they add 10 percent as a contingency for possible changes. And then they add another 10-12 percent on top of all that for profit and overhead.

The MTA takes a laissez-faire relationship to its contractors’ agreements with labor unions and then sits back as the contractors build in extra costs (and profit margins) to their agreements. No wonder the contractors want the MTA capital plan to be as expensive as possible as high amounts of available dollars lead them to realize more profits. And the examples are endless. Rosenthal notes that other countries’ bidding processes lead to as many as eight bids on complex construction work whereas the MTA sees two that often come in far higher than estimated. MTA Board members meanwile, are keen to wash thier hands of graft:

More than a dozen M.T.A. workers were fined for accepting gifts from contractors during that time, records show. One was Anil Parikh, the director of the Second Avenue subway project. He got a $2,500 ticket to a gala, a round of golf and dinner from a contractor in 2002. Years later, shortly after the line opened, he went to work for the contractor’s parent company, AECOM. Mr. Parikh and AECOM declined to comment.

A Times analysis of the 25 M.T.A. agency presidents who have left over the past two decades found that at least 18 of them became consultants or went to work for authority contractors, including many who have worked on expansion projects. “Is it rigged? Yes,” said Charles G. Moerdler, who has served on the M.T.A. board since 2010. “I don’t think it’s corrupt. But I think people like doing business with people they know, and so a few companies get all the work, and they can charge whatever they want.”

Firms that donate to politicians and operate a revolving door between their offices and the public sector are the only ones to bid on complex projects and they do so at inflated costs. It’s graft, and whether it’s legal is a big open question mark in my mind. But don’t sleep on MTA ineptitude either; the agency after all hired three “operational readiness” consultants for East Side Access ten years before construction work is set to wrap on the project. The waste and the rot run deep.

As you read The Times piece, you may be wondering what happens next. After all, MTA officials have been on the record acknowledging these problems for years, but they never act. Horodniceanu talked about overstaffing on TBM projects years ago, and he never acted. A faction on the MTA Board recently started raising concerns over contracting dollars, but the full board still voted to approve all projects. And the $6 billion Second Ave. Subway phase looms large.

As I see it, two people could fix this mess. One is Andrew Cuomo. He could exert the leverage he has over the MTA and the labor unions to get both sides to come to the table on a solution. Unfortunately, he has shown no willingness to challenge union costs, and he has used the MTA for political show only. The other person is New York State AG Eric Schneiderman who could use his office’s legal powers to investigate these contracts and, if legally feasible, start prosecuting all of these players for fraud. That would be a big shock to the New York state construction graft industry but is a reach legally with standards for proving this type of corruption very high these days.

Are we stuck then? Is the only outcome a well-deserved Pulitzer nomination for Rosenthal and The Times and vindication for Stephen Smith, Alon Levy, and the thousands of transit nerds who have listened to them over the years? I hope something more comes out of this series of articles. The future of reasonably priced transit projects in NYC depends on it. But even with everything out in the open, corruption has a way of persevering absent a major shock to the system that enabled it in the first place.

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Chet January 1, 2018 - 10:52 pm

If this mess was completely cleaned up and capital construction run correctly, that six billion price tag for the SAS phase two could pay for almost the entire cost of all three remaining phases of the line.

Thomas Graves January 2, 2018 - 1:28 am

While I would love to see an official inquiry into what you accurately termed ‘institutionalized corruption’ ala the Knapp Commission’s investigation of police corruption back in the Serpico era of the 1970’s, I just don’t see it happening. New York seems to be incapable of fundamental change; there is a complacency with the third-world standard of public transportation in Gotham; everyone – the unions, the construction firms, the consultants and the MTA itself – is raking in money and is fat and happy. The status quo is working swell for them. The only people getting a truly raw deal are the tax-paying riding public, but what do they matter? We all know the answer to that. Being based in Japan, I may have missed it, but I noted very little reaction to the Times’ magnificent piece of journalism from public officials whom you would expect to comment, even if only to make the usual feeble excuses. Has Cuomo or DeBlasio or Schneiderman said anything about this deplorable state of MTA affairs or promised to do anything…? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Ben’s suspicion that nothing will change is unfortunately all too likely to be true. I hope I’m wrong, since as others have pointed out, if NY’s costs were more in line with those of the rest of the world, the entire 2nd Ave Subway could be completed for the $6B of Phase II.

Fool January 2, 2018 - 1:09 pm

It is a difficult thing to do with big tent political parties. Are the Democrats going to eat their own, especially after organized labor marginally changed to GOP? Are voters going to become single issue voters and vote democrats?

Are primaries going to go against the Crowley machine?

Sort of genuine grass root political pressure, I cannot a Democratic political leader owning the issue.

Fool January 2, 2018 - 1:10 pm

Are voters going to become single issue voters and vote democrats?
—–I meant vote Republican…

SEAN January 2, 2018 - 2:54 pm

NO! Not after the fact that the tax bill past witch is a big middle finger to NY, NJ, CT &CA.

Don’t forget that the fire & police unions are a huuuuuuuuuuuuge pool of republican voters though.

Ferdinand Cesarano January 2, 2018 - 1:44 am

If the problem is the fact that costs are determined in negotiations between contractors and unions without the MTA at the table, then the solution is obvious: get rid of the contractors.

The MTA could have a full-time construction division, with the agency itself employing all the management and labour that is necessary to undertake expansion, which should be a perpetual state of affairs. This way, staffing issues would be addressed directly by the interested parties, and compensation would be part of the collective bargaining agreement.

Also, what is labelled with the weasel word “overstaffing” by anti-union types would be regarded by a more objective analysis as prudent. Safety rules may appear excessive or unnecessary when everything is going exactly as intended; but these rules are in place in order to deal with potentially catastrophic events, which are by their nature rare.

Indeed, the rules are designed to prevent the occurrence of catastrophic events in the first place. So, because one cannot point to deadly accidents that didn’t occur, the efficacy of these rules can be difficult to conceptualise and impossible to quantify. This leaves workers vulnerable to attacks by people who insist that they are not anti-union even as they opportunistically and dishonestly sow hostility towards the workers who are risking their lives for the public’s benefit.

Each working environment is unique; for this reason, comparisons in the rates of incidents amongst various cities is irrelevant. The only meaningful comparison would require access to the alternate reality in which our safety rules were not in place; there one could take account of the cost of the absence of these rules, a cost measured in piles of dismembered limbs and dead bodies.

Alon Levy January 2, 2018 - 5:10 am

They use contractors here. They use contractors in Spain, where a kilometer of subway is $60 million in most cases, and $200 million per km is considered an over-budget boondoggle. And they do so without massive construction accidents.

The problem with the “every environment is unique” line is twofold. First, it is hypocritical: the union members who say this re construction costs never use it to justify the US’s high inequality and lack of universal health care. And second, it is closed-minded: every periphery has a brigade of people who prefer their pride to progress, and the US is in the global periphery when it comes to public transit.

AMH January 2, 2018 - 11:50 am

Well said.

Adam Forman January 2, 2018 - 5:35 pm

While the Rosenthal article was extraordinary, I wish he dug a bit deeper on the varieties of unionism. One day the NYT is praising Swedish unions for accelerating the adoption of new technologies, the next they’re lambasting American unions for over-staffing, absurd work rules, featherbedding, and a *failure* to integrate new technologies.

This is not an accident. When unions are largely organized by trades (i.e. the USA) rather than industries (i.e. Sweden), certain inefficiencies are unavoidable. As new technologies begin to erode or obscure the distinctions between various skills/occupations, industrial unions are in a much better position to embrace them. Trade unions, on the other hand, bicker, resist, and invent inane work rules in the face of these advancements in order to maintain obsolete delineations.

Moreover, craft unions are more bureaucratic (each skill has its own management structure) and can be quite provincial. They’ll often look to get theirs rather than consider how greater productivity and cost containment can help the industry as a whole (and ultimately create *more* jobs).

Alon Levy January 3, 2018 - 12:28 am

Okay, so Germany, land of craft unions, happens to have high construction costs by European standards. This means that they’re maybe 1/4-1/3 as high as in New York rather than 1/15 as in cheaper countries like Italy and Sweden or 1/7 as in intermediate countries like France. That’s still a long way from fully explaining what’s wrong with New York.

Larry Littlefield January 3, 2018 - 9:17 am

In Europe, social arrangements tend to cover everyone, equally. You don’t have one class of people who get things and don’t pay for them, and others who pay for them and don’t get them.

That limits the scope of featherbedding, excess years in retirement, executive bonuses, etc.

Here it is the executive/financial class, the political/union class, and the serfs.


To cover off the exploitation of the serfs. Costs in the present (now the past) have been shifted to the future (now the present).

Adam Forman January 3, 2018 - 10:45 am

I agree 100%. It certainly doesn’t provide a *full* explanation, but (as you’ve acknowledged plenty of times before) it is part of the equation.

That said, Germany’s trade unions (and its employers) are organized by industry and wage/benefit/standards/education negotiations are highly centralized–not conducted with bidders on a contract-by-contract basis.

aestrivex January 2, 2018 - 12:45 pm

Claiming that the safety rules are all necessary, without scrutiny, because they protect workers that are otherwise at risk, is outright disingenuous.

In the extreme case, suppose that there were so many rules that 100% of the project budget was dedicated to ensuring worker safety, and 0% of it to construction. Then the project would never be built, which does not meet any of the goals of the project sponsors.

Concerns about worker safety can be legitimate while also being audited to control costs. There is a balance here. If you are not willing, as a union, to sit down and discuss which of the safety regulations really are important, and how important the less important ones are, you are being either disingenuous or outright greedy.

Obviously every safety regulation on the books has the potential to save lives. That is not in dispute. What is in dispute, is whether it is worth it. It is not the case that avoidance of certain small risks, is worth it.

Tom P January 5, 2018 - 1:09 pm

There’s also an issue of scale. I’ve seen this with agencies, and I assume it happens with large labor unions as well.

Say you need someone to hammer a nail. Let’s say for example that one in a thousand people will hit their hand while trying to hit the nail. Most people consider that an acceptable risk. It’s way safer than driving.

But, if you have a work force of more than a thousand people, large agencies start to worry about one in a thousand accidents. So, now you need a special expensive hand guard and need to staff a person spotting the person hitting a nail. Because if one in a thousand people hurt themselves hammering a nail, and you have one thousand people, then someone will likely hurt themselves without the crazy rules.

Alon Levy January 5, 2018 - 5:25 pm

Paris is not a small town.

Can't wait January 2, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Can’t wait for robots to replace all of these lazy union workers!!!

SEAN January 2, 2018 - 1:14 pm

Is it the average unionized worker that is the problem or is it their managers & supervisers who are making the decisions. The average worker does what they are told to do otherwise when the next contract comes up, those who don’t follow directions will find themselves not on the call up list & will need to wait for a job. And how much savings do most of those people have to draw from?

That is not to say that the system doesn’t stink from the head down, rather just pointing out where the problems truely lie & it’s above the average working stiff.

Christopher Stephens January 2, 2018 - 7:34 pm

As pointed out above, we already have robots (in this case, the TBMs). Hasn’t changed a thing, unfortunately.

Larry Greenfield January 2, 2018 - 2:04 pm

Overlooked in this discussion is the cost per passenger that will result from the expenditure of public money. East Side Access is probably the highest, but the PATH World Trade Center project is nearly as outrageous. Does this factor ever get considered in the MTA or Port Authority capital planning process?

SEAN January 2, 2018 - 3:09 pm

In the case of LGA, it is as simple as increasing landing fees to cover costs & union pensions. If you want to see what happens with that, look at MIA’s $30 per emplanement, one of the highest fees in the nation. As a result low cost airlines are moving or setting up shop at FLL.

Larry Littlefield January 2, 2018 - 2:13 pm

Left out of the article. NYC’s multi-employer construction pensions handed out big retroactive increases for those cashing in and moving out around the year 2000. Pension funding by construction companies was cut at about the same time.

As a result the pension funds are underfunded, and pension costs have soared. As for the public sector pension funds. So private sector construction has gone non-union.


Leaving the MTA and other public agencies to pay for the entire cost of retirees in Florida who once worked on public AND private construction.

“The union model of employee leasing, you can understand it has a lot going for it from an employee standpoint,” McMahon said. “The problem is that they have priced themselves out of competition. And it’s not just greed but that they have to back fill their unpaid liability of pension shortfalls.”

“I think when you look at public works, you look at the large, multibillion dollar projects that the government is building, government will always find a way to give that to the unions,” said Brian Sampson, the president of the Empire State Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a group that represents approximately 130,000 workers not affiliated with unions in New York City.”

“You’ve got the MTA, LaGuardia, Penn Station, bridges, Javits Center, Second Avenue subway, basically any large public project [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo has stipulated they are going to build will be built by PLA. But the governor is a big beneficiary of labor contributions and labor support.”

Some of that inflated labor cost on the Second Avenue Subway is, in effect, going to workers on Donald Trump’s projects decades ago. The MTA is being used to fund that too, to benefit private construction and the early retired, even as new workers have their pay and benefits cut — just as in the public sector.

doctorcasino January 2, 2018 - 3:53 pm

There’s tons of very useful reporting backing up this article; I wish it spread its followup and fact-checking energies around more evenly so that we weren’t stuck with the headline takeaway (and most of the subsequent discussion) being solely about trade-union labor costs. The content of the article itself leaves open potentially much larger cost-inflation issues in the areas of superfluous white-collar consulting jobs, and even moreso, in the contingencies and profit margins baked into the inflated estimates from the vendor companies.

Versus a five-percent profit described elsewhere, “…the vendors add between 15 and 25 percent as an “M.T.A. Factor” because of how hard it can be to work within the bureaucracy of the transit authority. Then they add 10 percent as a contingency for possible changes. And then they add another 10-12 percent on top of all that for profit and overhead.”

So wait… are we really talking here about 35-47 percent tacked on? To budgets estimates in the hundreds of millions of dollars? And most of that is going to end up as gravy for the shareholders in the vendor companies, not featherbedding for the tunnel workers. Am I reading this right? It’s really bizarre to me that the authors give us this information, but then only follow up by asking an industry person who assures us that really, they barely make any profit at all! This claim is not interrogated or cross-examined the way the New York exceptionalism line is (very productively) treated. There’s a lot more work to be done; any political effort to deal with these cost issues is going to need to be multi-pronged, and just blaming the unions (as many are obviously predisposed to do anyway) is going to run into exactly the political dead ends you’d expect.

Brooklynite January 2, 2018 - 6:04 pm

Versus a five-percent profit described elsewhere, “…the vendors add between 15 and 25 percent as an “M.T.A. Factor” because of how hard it can be to work within the bureaucracy of the transit authority. Then they add 10 percent as a contingency for possible changes. And then they add another 10-12 percent on top of all that for profit and overhead.”

Within the consulting and contracting world MTA is well known as being a difficult and expensive client to work with. Insufficient and poorly scheduled track access, late change orders without compensation, over-specification that only allows one product from one manufacturer to be used (when such detail is unnecessary), and uncooperative bureaucracy are just a few of the issues. Everyone acknowledges it, even the MTA itself, which has performed internal studies and interviewed contractors to hear their ideas for improving the efficiency of the process.

I’m not saying the consultants and contractors aren’t making big bucks off of these projects, but a fair amount of that is Money Thrown Away instead of pure profit.

Edward January 3, 2018 - 3:04 pm

Sounds like Tony Soprano is involved.

Alon Levy January 4, 2018 - 4:45 am

Hey, in the place where Soprano’s ancestors came from, subway construction is actually quite cheap.

SEAN January 4, 2018 - 10:57 am

What about Carmela, AJ, Meadow & Chris Moultisanti? We cant leave them out as they take over the Jamba Juice franchise market in NJ & build speck houses.

If you remember the series, you’ll understand the humor.

JOster January 4, 2018 - 4:23 pm

This is a nice example of the dangers of public sector unions. I am left of left politically but the Dems’ refusal to be honest about the problems with public sectors unions is ridiculous. I am all for private sector unions – where you have a real adversary opposite the union. But there is no adversary to a public sector union in negotiations because the politicians care about placating the unions more than protecting the taxpayer. This is how we end up with fat police pensions that police earn after working just TWENTY years. Public sector unions are a total joke.

Ferdinand Cesarano January 5, 2018 - 2:01 am

Unions are just as essential in the public sector as in the private sector for the purpose of setting non-exploitive work rules, and also for establishing standards of due process in disciplinary matters.

More fundamentally, the idea that workers must have a say in the conditions under which we work is an issue of basic justice. It is a universal value that applies equally in the public sector and in the private sector.

smotri January 5, 2018 - 2:14 pm

I think it is quite clear by now that the MTA in its present form (a creature of and run essentially by Albany) is incapable of running a mass transportation system. Everywhere one looks, it is one failure after another. Bus system is faltering, with declining ridership. The subway is an embarrassment for a world class city. An endless list of problems that no amount of ‘crisis’ declarations from disingenuous politicians will fix, political bickering. The most important constituent, and the one that bears the brunt of this multiple failure – the riding public – is conspicuously absent from the whole equation, often an afterthought, always forced to put up with the dysfunctional mess, leading to a kind of stoic cynicism.

On the one hand, Joe Lhota can say this: “We recognize this has been a problem. We’re never going to deny history,” Mr. Lhota said. “This is an issue that needs to be addressed. It needs to be attacked.”

Then on the other, about labor and contractors – but not the MTA – negotiating pay etc, this from the NY Times article: Mr. Lhota, the M.T.A. chairman, agreed that leaving negotiations to unions and vendors may be problematic. “You’re right; in many ways, there’s this level of connection between the two,” he said. But the chairman said he did not know what could be done about it. Hiring nonunion labor is legal but not politically realistic for the M.T.A. The transit authority could get unions to agree to project-specific labor deals, but it has not.

Upshot? Business as usual. This cannot be allowed to continue. My $2.75 per ride supports in part this pathetic attitude. I’d rather walk!

Nathanael January 8, 2018 - 5:15 am

MTA blacklisted Bombardier. Boston blacklisted the contractors who scammed them on the Green Line extension. Blacklist even one of the NYC construction mafia firms, watch real bids from honest firms appear.

Nathanael January 9, 2018 - 9:52 pm

I want to emphasize the incredible, massive success of Boston’s firing of the corrupt scammers who were ripping off the Green Line construction project there. Once they were fired and blacklisted, the new bidders came in *way lower* than anyone expected *and* promised to restore a bunch of amenities for very little extra.

What’s happening is that the corrupt contractors win the jobs in NYC so the honest contractors don’t even *bother* to bid. Same thing *was* happening in Boston, before.

Blacklist and fire even one of the corrupt contractors, and the honest contractors will give bidding a chance, like they did in Boston.

Rick January 17, 2018 - 11:33 pm

Bring back the Interborough Rapid Transit company. Let’s admit that NYC’s public sector has failed SPECTACULARLY in the realm of subway construction. Through a bidding process, determine the amount a private firm would pay, or would expect to be paid, in exchange for thew right to build out and own Phases 2, 3 and 4 of the Second Avenue Subway. The firm would own and maintain the stations and the track (though the MTA would run the trains). Whether its construction and operational is performed on a union or nonunion labor would be a private matter for the firm and its workers to determine. ,The only work rules imposed by the government would be the OSHA standards applicable to all industrial firms, public and private. And this new IRT company would be free in perpetuity to set the fares at the stations it owns, disciplined only by the presence of alternative MTA stations a few blocks away. The MTA’s Boss Tweed-style looting of the city’s coffers would be curtailed, at least in this one instance.


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