Thompson blasts NYC Transit in audit

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September 23, 2009 3:59:51 PM PDT
New York City Transit is failing to repair reported defective and dangerous conditions in commuter areas at subway stations across the city, according to a new audit by New York City Comptroller William Thompson.The defects include holes in station ceilings and platforms, corroded metal, loose or warped rubbing boards and broken steps.

The year-long audit, launched amid concerns about systemic repair delays, exposed a number of hazardous conditions left unfixed by New York City Transit (NYCT) for months, if not years.

"We recently averted tragedy when a subway ceiling collapsed onto tracks in Upper Manhattan," Thompson said. "That should have signaled not just the need, but the urgency, to repair hazardous conditions. Instead, it's as if New York City Transit is looking the other way. New Yorkers deserve better."

Chief among the findings:

  • About two-thirds of the 144 defects observed at 50 sampled stations on different occasions between November 6 and December 12 were not reported by NYCT station supervisors to maintenance shops for follow-up.
  • NYCT lacks a clear standard for the frequency of station inspections, and does not routinely use inspection reports or keep them on file.
  • A comptroller's test involving 425 sampled trouble-calls at the 50 stations uncovered that defective conditions reported to the maintenance shops are not always repaired.
  • About 15 percent of the defects associated with trouble-calls observed at the stations had not been repaired, despite being reported well over 60 days prior to the inspections.
  • NYCT's database even showed that some conditions were repaired and had been closed out as fixed, even though the conditions still existed.

    NYCT is the largest agency in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's regional transportation network, operating 27 subway lines consisting of nearly 6,500 subway cars that travel over 660 miles of track connecting 468 active stations throughout four of the five City boroughs. The subways serve about 4.5 million riders daily.

    In the course of the audit, which covered July 1, 2007 to March 31, 2009, auditors visited 50 stations accompanied by either a station supervisor or superintendent, conducted separate inspections and photographed many of the defective conditions.

    Click here to see the NYCT's response

    Defects indentified during independent inspections

    About two-thirds of the defects initially observed at the 50 sampled stations were not reported for follow-up. During independent inspections of the 50 stations, auditors found 144 reportable defects at 42 stations. Upon comparing the results of the inspections to the December 22, 2008 copy of the trouble-call database generated after auditors' inspections, it was discovered that only 45 (31 percent) of the 144 defects were recorded in the database. The remaining 99 (69 percent) defects were not recorded in the trouble-call database because they apparently had not been reported to the maintenance shops for repair.

    Between February 9 and 13 of this year, about 60 days after the inspections, auditors revisited 27 of the 42 sampled stations where they had observed defective conditions to determine whether 100 of the previously observed defective conditions were corrected, and found that 54 had not been.

    The conditions included:

  • Missing riser tiles on the staircase at the 33rd Street station (above) on the No. 6 line in Manhattan. Auditors observed the missing tiles on November 25, 2008 and again during their reinspection on February 9, 2009 despite a December 22, 2008 trouble call.
  • A damaged platform ceiling at the Smith and 9th Streets station on the F and G lines in Brooklyn. Auditors saw a number of defects including peeling paint, rust conditions, a hole in the ceiling of the northbound platform, and broken concrete on a stair tread on the mezzanine staircase. None of these conditions were reported as trouble-calls.
  • A loose electrical or telephone box hanging from a wire at the 116th Street station of the A line in Manhattan. On November 24, 2008, auditors saw the box hanging from its feed cable on the north end of the southbound platform and noted that the box was within riders' reach. When auditors returned on February 12, the box was still broken and no trouble-call had been reported.

    The NYCT asserted that supervisors do not report certain conditions such as peeling paint because they either cannot be remedied by maintenance shops or are the responsibility of another division. The NYCT also said that paint and iron defects are alternatively identified through Capital Programs, Capital Program Management and Budget consultant structural surveys, Subways Infrastructure Engineering structural inspections and station condition assessments.

    "Yet, many of these surveys may not be conducted frequently enough to ensure that all defective conditions that could be potentially hazardous to the riding public are identified, reported and addressed promptly," Thompson said.

    Status of reported defects on accompanied inspections

    During walkthroughs of the 50 stations between November 6 and December 12, auditors found defects associated with 399 of the 425 sampled trouble-calls that had been reported to the maintenance shops for repair. However, neither auditors nor the station supervisors could find the defects associated with the remaining 26 sampled trouble-calls because their locations were not clearly identified in the trouble-call database.

    Of the 399 sampled defects that were found, 63 (15 percent) had not been repaired, despite being reported to maintenance shops well over 60 days prior to auditors' inspections. For these 63, an average of 48 days - ranging from seven to 167 days - had elapsed from the date the calls were received and recorded in the trouble-call database by the maintenance shops. Overall, 16 percent of these 63 calls exceeded the NYCT's 60-day performance period for responding to such calls. Additionally, 42 of the 63 (67 percent) defects were closed out as having been completed by shops.

    They included:

  • A loose stair handrail at the E9 northbound stairway (above) at the 71 Street station of the D and M lines in Brooklyn. A trouble-call was generated on June 2, 2008 and was closed out as completed on that same day. However, auditors found the handrail loose and unsecured on December 12, 2008.
  • A loose metal wall panel at the south end section of the southbound elevated platform at 88th Street-Boyd Street station of the A line in Queens. On June 20, 2008 a trouble-call was generated and was closed out as completed on July 12, 2008. However, when auditors visited on November 20, 2008, the top part of the metal wall panel remained broken.
  • A loose board at edge of the southbound platform of the Cortelyou Road Station of the Q line in Brooklyn. On April 8, 2008 a trouble-call was generated. This call was not completed and therefore not repaired. When auditors visited on November 12, 2008, they observed that the condition had not been repaired.
    Weaknesses in station inspections

    Thompson said the audit findings highlight that station supervisors do not adequately inspect stations or identify and report potentially hazardous conditions to the maintenance shops, which could be due to a lack of a clear understanding by supervisors of conditions that should be reported.

    Auditors noted that there are procedures governing how trouble-calls are recorded, assigned, closed out, tracked and reported. However, auditors found weaknesses in those procedures.

    Further, auditors reported that customer complaints about defects are not appropriately handled. Of 20 defects auditors reported by phone to MTA Customer Service in February and March of this year, only four (20 percent) were recorded; the other 16 (80 percent) were not logged.

    Additionally, auditors found that NYCT lacks a reliable computerized system to manage and assess maintenance activities and facilitate accurate record-keeping, data collection and analysis. Because monthly reports are generated from the trouble-call database covering the maintenance shops' performance in addressing trouble-calls, the reports posed concerns regarding their accuracy.

    The comptroller made 16 recommendations, asking NYCT to:

  • Ensure that station inspections are appropriately performed by station supervisors and that all observed defects are reported to maintenance shops.
  • Establish a minimum requirement for frequency of station inspections and include this requirement in the Station Supervisor Training Program Manual and other operating procedures.
  • Ensure that required inspection and frequency reports are used to evidence inspections and establish record maintenance requirements for such reports.
  • Establish minimum requirements for supervisors to randomly review the work performed by maintenance personnel and to report on these observations. These reviews should be used as part of employee evaluations.
  • Consult the Information Technology-Information Systems (IT-IS) department within the agency to discuss the weaknesses and needs of the MSU in tracking trouble-calls.

    NYCT responded with the following statement:

    Several of the recommendations made in the Comptroller's Office audit report on MTA New York City Transit's efforts to maintain and repair subway stations are being followed, while some, including those requiring the use of web-based technology, are under review for future incorporation.

    Improvements are currently underway in the areas of the procedures governing station inspections and the frequency of these inspections, while supervisors receive additional training in the identification of station defects. This includes the continuation of a two-day training refresher that helps maintain the supervisor's proficiency in this area.

    The Department of Subways Line General Manager Program provides the tools for increased communications between maintenance and operations personnel and improved records keeping, helping to ensure that the needs of an individual line are identified, discussed and prioritized while prescribed inspection intervals are adhered to. Importantly, the line manager system also ensures speedy response, resolution and follow-up to customer complaints.

    In our 2010 - 2014 Capital Program proposals, NYC Transit will begin to take a more cost effective, efficient, flexible and realistic approach to station conditions given available funding. Our Station Component program will focus on remediating deficient station components while maintaining those components that are in good condition. This approach will allow for more stations to be addressed in a shorter period of time in contrast to more costly station rehabilitations. The component program will be based on a condition assessment survey of station components completed in 2008. That condition survey database will be updated on a regular basis.

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