Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A culture of arrogance and obfuscation

Here is a verbatim transcription of a recent complaint filed with the New York City Transit Authority regarding bad service on the Q39 bus line in Queens. You will note that I've asked two very specific questions; also note that the reply answers neither of them directly—it skirts the issue instead. Just another example of the overwhelming arrogance that is pervasive within the MTA. We riders don't want another useless apology, we want the problems to be addressed and fixed.

Customer (Cameron Williams) - 01/31/2008 03:50 PM
Why are these buses (Q39) allowed to leapfrog each other, without regard to the printed schedule? I've seen four of these buses arrive within the space of three minutes—then no buses at all for 45 minutes.

Is this a concession you've made to the TWU? (i.e., if a driver finishes his/her route ahead of schedule, they get a break until their next scheduled run.)

If not, what's your justification?

Inadequate (and canned) response that doesn't answer the specific questions.

Response (Helen Castiglia) - 02/05/2008 09:43 AM
Dear Mr. Williams:

I am writing in response to your e-mail regarding the Q-39 bus route.

We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience you have experienced. Despite our best efforts to maintain regularly scheduled service, delays and service diversions can sometimes occur for a variety of reasons.

Therefore, in response to your concerns, with respect to multiple buses arrivng at the same time, this is usually an indication that a problem or obstruction occurred along the route which backs up the buses. Once the obstruction clears and buses resume a normal flow into traffic, they begin to catch up with one another thus resulting in a "bunching" or "piggyback" effect. Despite our best eforts to maintain regularly sheduled service, delays and service disruptions can sometimes occur for a variety of reasons.

If you have any future bus related concerns, please call our Customer Service Department at (718) 445-3100 Monday through Friday 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.


Helen Castiglia
Customer Service Department
MTA Bus Company

A culture of waste and inefficiency

Recently, (my post of February 1) I wrote about the use of innovative concrete construction which would allow the transit authority to obtain all the benefits of granite or ceramic tiles, while enjoying the cost savings inherent in using concrete. By using other innovative materials and employing fresh thinking, similar savings could be made throughout the system, e.g., composite plastic railroad ties can be substituted for toxic creosote-treated wood, with better performance and lower cost—yet there is no push for this, only the same old familiar refrain of "we need more money". Please bear in mind that it's your money they're asking for.

This narrow-mindedness is pervasive throughout the MTA. A few months back, their knee-jerk reaction to the "lack of cleanliness" noted in the "Rider Report Cards" was to immediately hire an additional 300 cleaners. Have you noticed how much cleaner the cars are since then? I thought not. But there is now another substantial drain on transit resources. A more prudent approach would have been to evaluate the efficiency of the cleaners already employed, then take steps to maximize their effectiveness. I've watched the cleaners at the Coney Island terminus, and they tend to miss every other piece of litter.

Again and again, one finds that the solutions to problems implemented by transit officials invariably adds another layer of cost to the system. Why? The answer seems to be that executives don't advance their careers within the MTA by saving money; they advance by devising grandiose plans which garner publicity. Unfortunately, that approach cheats the taxpayers and riders.

Since it's our money these authorities are spending, I would ask that the MTA adopt the philosophy of Occam's Razor, a well-known principal used successfully by scientists throughout the world. Stated as succinctly as possible, it is: "When confronted by a problem with multiple solutions, the simplest is usually correct." Remember folks, that's "simplest", not "costliest".