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Audit finds “MTA’s expanding subway diversions headed down a wasteful, confusing track”

August 1, 2011

A joint audit of the MTA was released by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and New York City Comptroller John Liu on July 31. The report, which is the first joint audit of the MTA by the state and city comptollers in more than 10 years, criticized the authority and its New York City Transit division for unproductive and over budget subway service diversions that often leave riders with little explanation or instructions for alternate travel routes. As the New York Times noted, “the audit examined work orders from Jan. 1, 2009, through July 14, 2010, and found that work often started late and ended early, costing the agency $10.5 million. Auditors attributed an additional $26.6 million in overruns to the failure of transit officials to monitor expenses.”

In a press release announcing the report, Comptroller DiNapoli stated that “When the MTA fails to manage its service diversions properly, it’s more than an inconvenience; it’s a waste of taxpayer money and it derails local businesses. Our audit found that MTA’s service diversions are increasing in frequency and leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in cost overruns. The subway system is showing its age, but the MTA has to do a better job managing all aspects of these diversions, from rider notification to budgeting.” Comptroller Liu echoed these sentiments, commenting that “Sadly this confirms the nagging suspicion of riders, residents and business owners alike, that subway service is taken down more than necessary. The MTA must understand that the City never sleeps and weekend service is neither ancillary nor expendable. We expect the MTA to maintain and repair the tracks, while keeping disruptions to a minimum.”

In response to the audit, a spokesman for New York City Transit told the New York Times that “Due to the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation of the subway system, planned service diversions are necessary in order to perform maintenance and capital work. We make every effort to minimize customer inconvenience by coordinating work — performing multiple jobs in the same area so that we do not have to go back again. However, some projects are extremely involved, requiring several shutdowns.” The New York Post reported that New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast “acknowledged some ‘inherent inefficiency’ in diversion procedures, but insisted that many shutdowns were unavoidable in the non-stop system.”

Some of the audit’s key findings include:

  • Transit’s budget for advertising diversions is woefully inadequate and Transit management failed to notify riders of diversions consistently or effectively.
(MTA service change notices, via luluinnyc – Amy Dreher on Flickr.)
  • The frequency and duration of Transit’s subway diversions are increasing. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of weekend diversions rose from 47 to 74 and the number of diversions lasting for at least one month increased from 7 to 57.
  • Transit often reroutes riders’ trains even when no work is taking place. Unproductive work time ate up anywhere from 10 to 27% of the time trains were diverted, though there was no cost mitigation.
  • Spending on diversions is not properly managed. The Comptrollers reviewed 15 diversions covered by 12 contracts budgeted at $141.7 million. Four of these contracts went over budget by a combined $26.6 million and cost a total of $83.1 million.
  • Out of a sample of six diversions in which buses were used to transport the riding public, Transit management could not document how ridership estimates were used to decide how many buses to put into operation or for how long.

The joint audit also included five recommendations:

  1. The MTA and Transit should reevaluate the budget for alerting the riding public about planned subway service changes due to diversions.
  2. Expenditures for service diversions should be monitored and spending over budget amounts should be justified.
  3. Diversions should adhere to scheduled start and end times and normal subway service should be restored as soon as possible after diversion work is completed.
  4. Ridership data should be used to determine shuttle bus deployment for transporting riders during subway diversions.
  5. The MTA and Transit should adhere to federal law and transit procedures related to communicating with the public regarding diversions.
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