Tuesday, 15 Jun 2021

MTA supervisors failed to check on no-show track inspectors, IG says

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The MTA’s reliance on “self-reported” track inspections exposed the city’s transit system to “widespread deception” that led to the unpaid suspension of seven no-show inspectors, MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny said Thursday.

Track supervisors had no way to verify whether inspections were conducted and were not expected to do on-site checks, Pokorny said — allowing the seven workers to skate by without anyone noticing they neglected to do their jobs.

All seven workers were suspended without pay in December after MTA management became aware of Pokorny’s investigation, which began in January 2020 after news reports of debris falling from elevated tracks.

“It is appalling that so many track inspectors, on so many occasions, skipped safety inspections, filed false reports to cover their tracks, and then lied to OIG investigators about it,” Pokorny said in a statement.`

Investigators also caught the workers using their personal cellphones on the job, in violation of MTA rules. They found no evidence that the workers’ absence led to specific track defects.

But their failure to conduct inspections and widespread illicit phone use “raise alarm about the diligence with which the Inspectors approached their work, due to distractions or their complete absence from the tracks, thereby creating significant safety risks,” Pokorny’s office said in its report officially published Thursday.

“In light of the weak controls and the falling debris, the actual number of partial or completely absent inspections is likely higher,” the IG’s Office wrote. “These Inspectors treated their duties like a no- or low-show job.”

To verify workers’ whereabouts, supervisors relied on hourly phone calls, which the IG’s office noted “can be made from anywhere.” In-person checks on workers were “rare,” the IG said.

Transit officials have since added additional controls to confirm workers are doing their assigned inspections.

Inspectors must now snap a picture of each station they pass to verify they’ve done the work, a process that will be further strengthened by a customized MTA mobile app.

But MTA officials cannot track workers via their MTA-issued cellphones — “the easiest solution,” in the IG’s words — because of a 2018 contract agreement prohibiting GPS monitoring of workers, Pokorny’s office said.

IG investigators also found supervision of worker cellphone use was “inadequate,” and called on the MTA to explicitly require that MTA-issued phones be used for work purposes, and issue updated policies for personal and MTA-issued phone usage.

As a a result of the investigation, all seven workers were suspended without pay, cumulatively losing out on $145,115 in wages.

“As we have been saying for months, including during discussion of this investigation at board meetings, there is nothing more important to us than ensuring the safety of the riding public,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement.

“These inspectors violated the public’s trust, they were caught and immediately removed from service, and as the MTAIG points out, they are paying severe penalties for those violations. NYC Transit has zero tolerance for any action that could impact safety – period.”

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