Public transportation

Subway Planners Forgot To Include Wheelchair-Friendly Platforms in $21.7 Million Accessibility Project, Audit Finds

A damning new audit of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority finds that subway improvement projects are plagued by delays and cost overruns.

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A damning new audit of improvements being made to New York City's ailing subway system found that absentee workers, design flaws, and mistakes made during construction are delaying needed repairs and costing taxpayers and riders millions.

On Monday, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli published an audit of six capital projects being undertaken by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)—the state-run transit agency responsible for most of New York City's buses and trains—costing some $817 million.

All six of the examined projects were finished late, and four were finished overbudget. Cost overruns totaled $43.2 million.

"This audit found numerous problems in the MTA's capital projects pipeline that led to delays and cost overruns," said DiNapoli in a press release. "These are red flags that fall within the MTA's power to fix."

One driver of cost overruns were additional work orders, or AWOs, which ask contractors to perform work beyond the scope of their original agreements with MTA, often to fix mistakes made during construction or to rectify design flaws.

For example, MTA had to shell out $617,000 on AWOs for one project that was intended to make a subway station accessible to disabled people after it was discovered that the original design had omitted a necessary raising of the subway platform to allow passengers with wheelchairs to enter and exit trains. The New York Post identifies the project as the $21.7 million accessibility overhaul of the 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue station.

Manhattan Institute transportation scholar Nicole Gelinas has argued that these AWOs raise project costs significantly, writing that "the MTA has no leverage in negotiating these change orders; once it has awarded a contract, the winning bidder effectively holds the authority hostage."

The MTA reported $731 million in change orders in 2018.

The state's audit also uncovered rampant absenteeism, with large numbers of workers not showing up to work despite being paid to be there.

State auditors compared the number of workers showing up to job sites to contractor work schedules over a 15-day period for all six of the examined projects and found that contractors were short on staff by 29 percent on average.

Some job sites were worse than others. Auditors found that on one project workers were paid for working 378 days despite only showing for about half those days. This absenteeism is a major reason for project delays.

Currently, the MTA is nearing the end of a $33 billion, five-year capital improvement plan, which has cost roughly $3 billion more than projected. The next capital improvement plan is expected to cost $40 billion.

The MTA itself was largely dismissive of Monday's audit, with an agency spokesperson telling the New York Post that the state comptroller "cherry-picked" examples and that the six projects examined were not representative of the over 2,000 capital projects currently underway.

Transit experts also criticized the report for not doing enough to root out the real causes of the MTA's cost overruns.

"The DiNapoli audit is a dud because doesn't aim squarely at the factors that cause high MTA construction costs," said Ben Fried of TransitCenter to AM New York. "his report sheds a little light on project management but otherwise doesn't get us any closer to understanding how to wrangle the MTA's cost problem under control."

New York City's subway system, like many legacy transit systems, has experienced major performance problems and drops in ridership as a result of deferred maintenance. Fixing and improving the subway is going to be an expensive proposition. If taxpayers are going to be asked to foot the bill, the transit agency has a responsibility to get costs under control and deliver projects on time.

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  1. I am thankful to you for sharing this plethora of useful information. I found this resource utmost beneficial for me. Thanks a lot for hard work.

  2. “the MTA has no leverage in negotiating these change orders; once it has awarded a contract, the winning bidder effectively holds the authority hostage.”

    Then the MTA has some piss-poor lawyers writing its contracts, or New York law is super friendly to contractors, because otherwise the MTA should have plenty of leverage.

    1. I was thinking the same thing.

      1. Screw that. Back charge the design team for failing to design according to ADA standards. If it isn’t in contract then they haven’t paid for it. Or should the contractor do work for free? Fucking engineers and architects need to get their heads out of their ass.

        1. I’m not suggesting that the contractor should do the work for free. I’m disputing that the MTA doesn’t have the ability to protect itself from being screwed by the contractor when negotiating the change order, which is what the “held hostage” language suggests.

          1. Screwed? Hostage? I fail to see how the contractor is doing either. The city were screwed by the design team and held hostage is just another way of saying pay me for my work before I do it. Don’t like the price well your free to contract with someone else but to get their crews to mobilize it will cost you more so pay the market rate. That is how they are held “hostage” by what the market demands. Again contractor has done nothing wrong as described. Us contractors are tired of this racist language used to slander our noble heritage.

            But really the problem is don’t hire union contractors if you want the job done well and at a reasonable cost. Oh and engineers and architects need to get their heads out of their asses.

            1. Back charge the design team for failing to design according to ADA standards.

              Absolutely.

              Fucking engineers and architects need to get their heads out of their ass.

              No doubt.

              Screwed? Hostage? I fail to see how the contractor is doing either.

              Really? If you’re a contractor, you’ve had subcontractors. You’ve never had a subcontractor propose a ridiculous price because they knew they had you over a barrel only to back down once you find some pressure to put on them?

            2. don’t hire union contractors if you want the job done well and at a reasonable cost

              I have no doubt there are safeguards in place to prevent non-union contractors from getting work.

            3. “Don’t like the price well your free to contract with someone else but to get their crews to mobilize it will cost you more so pay the market rate.”

              Assuming you aren’t joking, it’s shitty contractors like you that make it harder for legitimate contractors to get paid for actual changes.

              And unless the City has some piss-poor lawyers, or New York’s construction laws are very favorable to contractors, the City has more options besides the two you listed.

        2. That may be happening. On the other hand, the owner’s representatives generally do get to review the design before it goes to construction. They do get an opportunity to comment if a required design feature is missing, not to mention code review.

          1. They do get an opportunity to comment if a required design feature is missing, not to mention code review.

            This is true, but code compliance is generally considered the responsibility of the designer. It’s the designer’s expertise that you’re hiring them for, and they should be the ones to know how to comply with ADA.

            City plan checkers don’t typically review for ADA compliance, for a variety of reasons.

            To your point, it is very difficult to hold designers accountable for their mistakes for all the reason you describe. This one sounds like it has real potential, though.

        3. That may be happening. On the other hand, the owner’s representatives generally do get to review the design before it goes to construction. They do get an opportunity to comment if a required design feature is missing, not to mention code review.

          It is a common occurence of scope creep for an owner to ask for services that were not agreed to in the original contract.

    2. Then the MTA has some piss-poor lawyers writing its contracts, or New York law is super friendly to contractors, because otherwise the MTA should have plenty of leverage.

      ^ This. The notion that changes need to be made during the course of a project when the on-site contractor is really your only option and you have schedule pressure on the decision-making process is in no way new to construction. You plan for that, because no project ever happens without it.

      If you have a reasonably competent Project Manager who knows what things cost and contract docs that even have slight teeth in them, you can find your leverage.

  3. Sounds like a third world country. But it’s the greatest city on Earth!

    1. “But it’s the greatest city on Earth!”

      No, you needed to read the article, it is about New York City, in New York state, USA.

      1. It really strikes you when you fly from a really nice airport somewhere else into JFK. It’s really crowded, everything’s kind of shabby and grimy, customs is checking everyone’s eyeballs and searching bags in a dystopian manner, and there are TVs everywhere in your face blaring CNN acting like some kind of inescapable state propaganda. Really makes you feel like you’re in some third world shithole instead of the land of the free.

  4. So a democratic controlled fiefdom is chock full of fraud?
    “I am shocked, shocked to find corruption here. Close this place at once.”
    No comments on unions and ‘absentee’ workers? This is deliberate fraud. RICO time! Lock them up!

    1. No comments on unions and ‘absentee’ workers?

      SRSLY. I was pretty shocked by that. In CA we monitor payrolls and take head counts. It’s not airtight, but I could never imagine that many non-existent workers getting paid on a CA job.

      1. On a Texas one either. How do you have 30% of your workforce just not show up?

  5. Lets all have a contest and try to guess which politician(s) and/or bureaucrat(s) got that $12.7 million.
    The winner gets a free NYC subway pass for one year.

    1. And the losers get passes for two years.

  6. If taxpayers are going to be asked to foot the bill, the transit agency has a responsibility to get costs under control and deliver projects on time.

    What are the taxpayers going to do about it? Nothing. So no, the transit agency has no responsibility. Because there’s no accountability.

  7. MTA spelled backwards is ATM

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