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 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 cell phones 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 Inspector 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 on 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 cell phones — “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 cell phone use was “inadequate,” and called on the MTA to explicitly require MTA-issued phones be used for work purposes, 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.
The MTA did not immediately return a request for comment.
Metro | New York Post