Constructed in 1991, 130 Livingston Street was supposed to streamline MTA operations. Source: Google Maps

THE COMMUTE: In Part 1, I provided examples of MTA waste. Today I will detail the waste I personally observed while employed by the MTA.

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).

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  • LLQBTT

    How about graft, corruption and time and attendance abuse.  I knew of a highly paid ‘senior’ manager of a department that had 1/4 the work of everyone else and who seemingly had an endless amount of vacation time since he was out most of the time.  He also entered into business deals with his managers, how inappropriate. 

    • Allan Rosen

      One of the things I noticed over the years was how uneven the work load was distributed.  Some managers have to work ten hour days so they don’t drown in work, and they don’t receive overtime, when someone sitting a few desks away may have only 3 hours of work a day.  The one who stays overtime every day is regarded as inefficient because he couldn’t finish all his work during normal work hours. 

      Another inefficiency I noticed many years ago when the Word Program was introduced was that someone could take two hours to complete a task that someone who was more proficient with the program could finish in 15 minutes. That applied to other programs as well because some people were just too proud to ask someone else for help or didn’t realize there was a shortcut to what they were doing.

      With time clocks for most managers and professional technical employees, I don’t believe there is widespread abuse in time and attendance. That is one thing the MTA is very nit picky about. As long as you come in and leave on time and don’t do anything really horrible, you will never get fired, even if you never accomplish anything during your 8 hours.  The real abuse are the people who do little work during their 7 or 8 hours.

      I don’t know about time and attendance abuse or corruption at the field locations where there are no time clocks. 

      As far as the manager with “endless vacation”, it is possible he saved it up and hadn’t taken any for years, and decided to take it all at once when you knew him.  Years ago they let you carryover all your vacation days if you wanted to. They have since became more strict insisting you take most of it during the year you earn it.  I don’t believe anyone was authorizing any vacation he didn’t earn.  At least I never saw that happen. 

  • Guest

    MTA means – More Trouble Ahead, Morons Take All, Mindless Talk Always, Money Take Away
    I can continue….

  • nolastname

    Must
    Take
    Advantage.

  • Lenny

    MTA means “money thrown away” as in mtamoneythrownaway.com

    • Allan Rosen

      That was the focus of Part 1.