News: MTA Hearing For Christmas Blizzard
(Long Island, N.Y.)Part Two of the New York City Council hearings took place today at 10am to discuss the MTA‘s unsatisfactory response to the blizzard that left parts of the city covered in more than two feet of snow. The previous hearing, held on Monday, questioned Bloomberg’s commissioners on their decision not to declare a state of emergency in NYC at the time of the blizzard. Unlike the first hearing, today’s was open for commuters to discuss the troubles they faced throughout the city during the storm and its aftermath.
MTA chief, Jay Walder, admitted to mistakes made in dealing with the storm during the holiday weekend, such as waiting until drifts piled before assuming a more timely response. The MTA has been accused of having overtime costs prevent them from responding quickly and efficiently. Today’s meeting was handled by James Vacca, the democratic City Council Transportation Committee Chair out of the Bronx, who grilled the MTA for the following reasons:
With subways stranded, more than 1,000 buses were stuck in the city during the blizzard. Buses were continually sent out after hundreds were left in the streets, unable to travel through the heavy snowfall. Older city buses are only equipped to handle a mere two inches of snow, which is less than ten times the amount New Yorkers had to face during the storm. Newer, electric buses are not built to handle snow because their wheels are smaller and they only have a one gear setting.
Some MTA passengers waited over nineteen hours – all night – on a freezing train. Some were stuck on an A train in Queens, where the snowfall was at its heaviest, for seven hours. MTA workers reasoned that it may have been safer to remain inside. Nonetheless, fifteen-minute commutes lasted as long as an hour and a half during the blizzard. Commuters did not get refunds for MTA services on their Metro Cards, even in the cases of service interruptions, in addition to a $0.25 fare increase.
Perhaps the reason for such a slow response to one of the worst blizzards ever to hit the city is the decision not to put the MTA on Red Alert despite conditions that were clearly enough for Red Alert status. At the time of the blizzard, the city was on Blue Alert at a Level One, and was later changed to Level Four. But, as Vacca points out, this decision was something that came “too little too late” during such a major storm.
To put into perspective the magnitude of the failings of the MTA system: New Yorkers leave subway stations and buses over 7.5 million times a day; during the blizzard, there were over 8.5 million users of MTA services. It’s no wonder reports say the MTA faces lawsuits from some of these passengers.
Prior to this morning’s hearing, the MTA labor union conducted a meeting to discuss problems workers faced during the Christmas blizzard. As one worker points out, some couldn’t get to work with trains suspended. Some had to use vacation or personal days despite attempting to be in on the day of the storm. Some were in just as bad predicaments as passengers, claiming to have spent hours trying to get there.
The MTA has set up a new plan for emergency situations in time for the second blizzard that hit New York last Wednesday. Some of these revisions include declaring a High Alert when snow conditions are five inches or greater. High Alert will allow trains to be stored underground overnight, and snow clearing equipment will be moved into position prior to the next storm. Customer advocates will come to passengers who are stuck on trains and subways, ensuring that their needs are adequately addressed to MTA authorities. Aboveground subways will be suspended.
Nonetheless, Vacca is skeptical, claiming that the MTA has a history of not following through on changes they claim to enforce. Adding to the disappointment is the $11.2 billion capital construction project that will interrupt train service this weekend on sixteen subway lines. A separate rehabilitation project will be conducted on the F and G lines and will continue into the spring of 2012.