During my nearly 25 years at the MTA, I witnessed many types of MTA waste. When I started, one of my employees had to supervise three months of extra work that had to be performed because approximately 50 temporary workers sabotaged data due to the MTA screwing them before I was hired. They did this by firing the workers on a Friday and rehiring them the following Monday. This was to avoid having to pay them sick and vacation benefits, which were required of temporary employees hired for longer than six months.
Five years later, I shared a floor with a half dozen employees that the MTA forgot to reassign after dismantling a department of 30. They were placed in a corner and given no assignments for three years, although they continued to get paid.
Seven years later, my co-worker was assigned to order a custom shade of white paint because an MTA executive wasn’t satisfied with his office being painted in just plain white. He mistakenly ordered ‘ermine’ white instead of ‘Navajo’ white and was severely reprimanded for it. One would think the trains would stop running if, God forbid, the executive had to work in an ‘ermine’ white office instead of a ‘Navajo’ white office. But no one cared, when at the same time, digital end signs for the Lexington Avenue and Seventh Avenue lines were all ordered in red, instead of matching them to the subway map and station signs, and ordering green digitals for cars to be used on the Lexington Avenue line.
Five years later, I watched the delivery of top-of-the-line mahogany office furniture for a big executive, and heard of $7,000 plasma TVs and $6,000 digital cameras being ordered. Thousands of dollars were spent on plaques and awards for managers and directors, some of which were refused. One high level executive ordered some managers to run personal errands for him, requiring three or four hours to complete, and another ordered thousands of dollars of supplies for personal use.
Constantly On The Move
Every time workers move back and forth between locations, it costs money. Sometimes it is necessitated by a job change, but often it is not. When 130 Livingston Street was constructed in 1991, it was supposedly to house only administrative departments. Operating departments would relocate to Jay Street if they were not already there. However, that never happened.
Administrative and Operating departments were mixed at both locations, with some departments such as Car Equipment split with some functions in one building and others in the other building, so personnel had to frequently travel back and forth. There seemed to be no master plan, or plans kept changing, so even after everyone was relocated, additional moves continued for years, like a game of musical chairs.
During my first 15 years with the MTA, I was relocated 10 times: from East New York, to Jay Street, to the Howard Building, back to Jay Street, back to the Howard Building, to the old Korvettes Building, to Livingston Street, back to Jay Street, to Woodside, back to Livingston Street and finally back to Woodside, where I spent my remaining nine years. If I didn’t retire, I would have moved once again to 2 Broadway. My experience was not at all unusual as many of my co-workers relocated almost just as often.
Useless Staff Meetings And Other Wastes Of Time And Money
Sometimes MTA waste and inefficiency are obvious, like when we see bus bunching. Sometimes it is not so obvious. One of my former department heads insisted on weekly managerial meetings attended by at least 30 high paid managers in which virtually nothing was accomplished. A series of conference calls and monthly meetings would have been sufficient.
The meetings’ real purpose was to remind employees who the boss was and that his requests and orders were to be heeded. It was not to solicit new ideas or discuss policy changes, which might have served useful purposes. Each unit merely reported its activities of the past week and the boss commented and asked questions. Interaction between groups was minimal. Some, such as I, had no need for the information but we all were required to attend anyway. I would have to stop my productive work and waste two hours each week just to hear the department head berate his employees — the sign of a good manager, by MTA standards.
In another department where I worked, for several months we were required to keep a log and description of every phone call, discussion, and meeting, so as to account for every minute of the day. It got to the point that 50 percent of work time was spent documenting the work performed, greatly reducing efficiency rather than increasing it, the intended goal. Further, it was duplicative since important matters were documented anyway in the project files. The practice finally ended after widespread protest that it was preventing employees from completing their assigned tasks.
When all board members had to be listed by name on each sheet of letterhead stationery, employees were instructed to discard all letterhead paper every time an MTA Board Member would change. This occurred several times a year since appointments were staggered, and new letterhead was then issued. After many years, their names were finally omitted from the stationery and letterhead paper would only be discarded when there was a change in chairman.
Such a waste may seem trivial, but when trivial wastes are replicated thousands of times, they are no longer trivial. Every time someone wastes government money he should ask himself if he would behave similarly if his own personal finances were involved.
Next week: We conclude this series about MTA waste, discussing missed opportunities and double standards.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).