New info on subway elevators, escalators

May 19, 2008 3:01:19 PM PDT
After spending nearly $1 billion to install elevators and escalators since the early 1990s, one of every six in New York City Transit's subway system was out of service for more than a month last year, according to a published report. And two-thirds of the subway elevators had at least one breakdown last year in which passengers were trapped inside, The New York Times reported Monday.

"This organization is very, very good at subway car maintenance; it's very good at bus maintenance. But maintaining auxiliary equipment it hasn't done as well," said Howard H. Roberts Jr., president of New York City Transit. "I think that we are in the process of trying to create the same competence in elevator and escalator maintenance that we have in buses and subway cars."

The system has about 200 elevator and escalator mechanics, who receive as little as four weeks of training, a fraction of what they would receive elsewhere, the report said.

"They don't have enough competent people with the proper training," said Michele O'Toole, president of J. Martin Associates, which the transit agency hired in 2006 to evaluate its elevator operations.

O'Toole's company quit as a consultant in January 2007 after disagreements with the transit agency and another contractor.

Among the report's other findings:

  • The 169 escalators in the subway averaged 68 breakdowns or repair calls each last year. Some of the least reliable escalators are also some of the newest.
  • Managers often rush balky elevators and escalators back into service without identifying the underlying causes of mechanical problems.
  • Many problems occur because of design flaws or construction mistakes.

    The number of elevators has grown since 1990, when the Americans With Disabilities Act spurred changes in the aging system. Out-of-service elevators especially affect disabled riders, who need them to navigate the subways.

    In 1990, about 48 elevators were in the subway system. Today, there are 167 in 62 stations, with about two dozen more under construction and many more planned.

    Five million people ride the subway in New York City every day.

    The MTA released the following statement in response to the report:

    :Over the past two decades, MTA New York City Transit has invested an impressive amount of funding and effort into the maintenance and upkeep of its subway cars and buses. Recently, however, we have expanded our focus to address the shortcomings that existed in elevator and escalator reliability, even to the point of replicating the successful program that has fueled impressive gains in the reliability of the systems' rolling stock.

    'To help better train our workforce, NYC Transit recently opened a specialized training annex aimed at teaching the maintenance and repair of elevators, escalators and moving walkways. The facility offers extensive hands-on training so employees will be as prepared as possible as they work to keep the subway system's nearly 370 elevators and escalators in a state of good repair. Prior to the annex's opening, all instruction was done in the field. The annex is now a vital tool in maintaining the reliability of the system's elevator and escalator equipment. It should also be noted that in most instances, elevators are being installed in a system whose original designers never planned or provided for their installation.

    "Modeled after the program that helped dramatically boost subway car reliability, we have also begun a program that forecasts the expected service lives of escalator and elevator parts, and then replacing them prior to the point of failure. The system that houses maintenance records has been upgraded and fully computerized for easy reference and retrieval. Early improvements in reliability figures indicate that the move to the Scheduled Maintenance System is already having a positive impact. To visually check elevator and escalator operation, personnel from the Division of Stations check the equipment in their stations three times a day. In yet another move forward, NYC Transit has installed a $1.3 million electronic monitoring system to alert maintainers when an elevator or escalator stops working.

    "Every elevator in the system is online and connected to a central display and 31 escalators are currently being electronically monitored, so far. The system ensures a rapid response by repair forces. Additionally, acknowledging that elevators may fail at times, we post equipment outage information on the MTA website at The information is updated three times over the course of the day and gives riders an early warning of what equipment is being worked on. Customers may also call the Elevator/Escalator Hotline at 800-734-6772 for status information; the recording is updated at least three times daily.

    "Problems can occur even on newly installed elevators and escalators, but to lessen that possibility we have revamped and improved the process by which we accept new equipment, thus ensuring proper construction, assembly and installation.

    "These aggressive shifts in our philosophy have earned some improvement in the reliability of escalators and elevators. Though we are still coming online with the training annex, escalator reliability rose from 97.1 percent to 98.1 percent from the first quarter of 2007 to the same period this year. Likewise, elevator reliability rose from 97.9 to 98.8 percent."