Friday, April 26, 2013

MTA complaints: myth vs. reality

There's actually a lot to say about the few minutes that the mayoral candidates spent discussing transit at the 92nd Street Y forum last month. When the Republican mayoral candidates responded to Selig Alpern, there seemed to be a sense that you could actually complain to the MTA about something.
Lhota: "Had this 89-year-old gentleman called me when I was at the MTA, I would have done something. Because anybody can tell you that I returned every one of my phone calls, and I returned every one of the letters that was a concern of all of the riders of the system. And I consider riders to be customers, and in my world, a customer is always right. ...."

"Since I'm no longer employed I'm taking the bus a lot, often, and I too get peeved at the fact that I see all of these express buses going by, and I want to get on the locals. So I made it a point, and I called Tom Prendergast, literally, last week, and I said, 'What's going on? Why can't these buses stop more locally?' I did not realize how bad it is here on the Upper East Side.'"

Catsimatidis: "You know, It's management. If you do get complaints, as mayor, you have a 311 system. If you get complaints people have to address them. And if the limiteds are making too few stops, then you have to adjust the system. And it's pure and simple: adjust the system where the limiteds make more stops. And you just need qualified people to solve those kind of problems."

Some of you are already jumping up and down, shouting that the Mayor doesn't control the MTA, and of course that was the next thing that Lhota said. But it's worse than that. Let me tell you about my experience complaining to the MTA.

A few months ago I was waiting in the cold for 25 minutes with about 30 other people, for buses that were scheduled to run every 5-7 minutes. After a while I decided to spend my time making a formal complaint, so I pulled out my phone and dialed 311.

I knew that 311 was run by the city, but I figured they'd have some connection worked out by now. Not so much. After listening to minutes of bullshit about alternate side rules, I eventually talked to a 311 operator, who forwarded me to 511, which is the state transportation line. I think I was finally able to talk to someone, but I'm pretty sure I didn't get a tracking number, and I definitely haven't gotten a callback or an email.

Maybe Catsimatidis is right; all you need are qualified problem solvers to take the complaints and act on them. But it ain't happening. If Catsimatidis can make it happen, maybe he should run for Governor instead.

I sure as hell don't know Tom Prendergast's direct phone number, and I never knew Joe Lhota's. The Executive Director's contact information is not on the MTA's website. I don't know how easy it would be to leave Prendergast a voice mail by simply calling 511; if you try, let me know. If Alpern is like me, he doesn't have an easy way to call the head of the MTA.

It's not an accident that it's difficult to complain to the MTA. The third candidate, George McDonald, hit the nail on the head: "I believe that we have to have the Mayor accountable, because you all want to have somebody accountable. They create the MTA, and these kinds of agencies, for obfuscation. Who's responsible? Who do you complain to?" The system was designed by the master of public authorities, Bob Moses, to accumulate power while deflecting accountability.

This more than anything convinces me that Joe Lhota is unqualified to be mayor. This is real "let them eat cake" stuff. He ran the MTA for over a year, and apparently he's still clueless about how difficult it is to get a complaint heard, and to get answers. Somehow he thinks that we all have Tom Prendergast's direct line on our speed dials, and that we had his own before that. Lhota really seems to believe that everyone who had a complaint during his time on the job was able to get through to him without being discouraged on the way, so that anyone who didn't, well, it's their own damn fault.

Of course, the reason the MTA doesn't really want to hear from ordinary riders is that its management doesn't actually think of us as customers who are always right. Its customers are the people who pay its bills: the Governor, the legislators, Congress, the real estate power players. Even though we riders actually pay the majority of the MTA budget through the farebox, our power is diffuse enough to ignore.

1 comment:

Alen said...

and that is why i avoid the bus like the plague unless its right there and i have a free transfer