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July 31, 2011



A joint audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and New York City Comptroller John C. Liu takes the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to task for leaving subway riders in the dark about wasteful and unproductive service diversions. Under MTA’s New York City Transit (Transit), subway service diversions are on the rise and over budget with little explanation or instruction to riders.

“When the MTA fails to manage its service diversions properly, it's more than an inconvenience; it's a waste of taxpayer money and it derails local businesses,” Comptroller DiNapoli said. “Our audit found that MTA’s service diversions are increasing in frequency and leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in cost overruns. The subway system is showing its age, but the MTA has to do a better job managing all aspects of these diversions, from rider notification to budgeting.”

“Sadly this confirms the nagging suspicion of riders, residents and business owners alike, that subway service is taken down more than necessary,” Comptroller Liu said. “The MTA must understand that the City never sleeps and weekend service is neither ancillary nor expendable. We expect the MTA to maintain and repair the tracks, while keeping disruptions to a minimum.”

The first joint audit conducted by the State and City Comptrollers in more than a decade recommended that Transit make significant improvements when it comes to budgeting, scheduling and managing service diversions. The audit, which covered a period from January 2009 to January 2011, brought together the expertise of the staffs of both offices and expanded upon the series of ongoing audits both have conducted of the MTA.

Transit Doesn’t Do Enough to Inform Riders of Service Diversions

Transit’s budget for advertising diversions is woefully inadequate and Transit management failed to notify riders of diversions consistently or effectively. In 2010, its budget for informing its 2.3 billion annual riders of service diversions was $228,000. In comparison, the Long Island Rail Road, with 81.9 million annual commuters, spent $742,432 to notify its riders of service diversions that year.

In June and July 2010, auditors visited 39 stations that were affected by diversions. They found:

  • No more than 20 signs at any station, despite Transit’s claim of posting 50 on each platform;
  • No signs in any language besides English at all 39 stations, despite Transit’s policy;
  • One sign in each of 10 stations on the 1 and 2 lines, but no signs at street level, in cars or on platforms;
  • Only two of 13 Americans with Disabilities Act stations checked had signs in elevators, despite Transit’s policy;
  • Transit’s only written policy for informing riders of diversions consists of newspaper advertisements, which are required to run for all diversions. Newspaper ads were only created for two of 50 sampled diversions (Fulton Street Station and World Trade Center E line).

More Diversions, Scheduled Poorly: Work Starts Late, Ends Early

The frequency and duration of Transit’s subway diversions are increasing. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of weekend diversions rose from 47 to 74 and the number of diversions lasting for at least one month increased from 7 to 57.

Transit often reroutes riders’ trains even when no work is taking place. When asked for the General Order Worksheets that track time spent on each diversion, Transit management could only provide auditors with 29 of the 50. Of those 29 diversions, work started late on 28 and stopped early on 21. Unproductive work time ate up anywhere from 10 to 27 percent of the time trains were diverted, though there was no cost mitigation. Transit management wasted an estimated $10.5 million in this manner over the 3,332 diversions in a sample period from January 1, 2009 and July 14, 2010.

$26.6 Million Over Budget

Spending on diversions is not properly managed. The Comptrollers reviewed 15 diversions covered by 12 contracts budgeted at $141.7 million. Four of these contracts went over budget by a combined $26.6 million and cost a total of $83.1 million. The MTA’s financial constraints demand that Transit properly monitor costs during diversions and keep them within budget.

Shuttle Bus Schedules Based on Six-Year Old Rider Numbers

The audit team sampled six diversions in which buses were used to transport the riding public. Transit management could not document how ridership estimates were used to decide how many buses to put into operation or for how long. Transit could provide only one ridership estimate and that was six years old.


The Comptrollers issued five recommendations. The MTA and Transit should:

  1. Reevaluate its budget for alerting the riding public about planned subway service changes due to diversions;
  2. Monitor expenditures for service diversions and justify spending over budget amounts;
  3. Ensure that diversions adhere to scheduled start and end times for service diversions and restore normal subway service as soon as possible after diversion work is completed;
  4. Use updated ridership data to determine shuttle bus deployment for transporting riders during a subway diversion;
  5. Adhere to Federal law and Transit procedures related to communicating with the public regarding diversions.
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