Audit finds MTA buses are a bust

Riders aren’t exactly getting a bang for their buck from city buses, according to an audit by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Nearly half of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) bus fleet – including virtually all of the fleet’s hybrid-engine buses – have not been properly inspected, despite maintenance costs that topped $777.7 million in 2008.

DiNapoli believes that the amount being spent by the MTA on its bus fleet is not being reflected in the service that the transportation authority provides.

“New Yorkers aren’t getting what they pay for when it comes to bus service,” said DiNapoli. “Other cities across the nation spend much less on maintenance and get better results. The MTA needs to step up bus maintenance performance and bring down maintenance costs.”

The MTA’s Regional Bus Operations oversees the authority’s 6,200-bus fleet and maintenance services at 29 depots and two overhaul facilities. DiNapoli’s audit examined records from the MTA’s Regional Bus Operations division between 2007 and 2009.

Through the audit, DiNapoli found that 29 bus depots did not meet performance goals, while the MTA’s maintenance costs per mile were the highest in the nation. The audit also uncovered that 584 of the MTA’s 1,255 maintenance inspections were performed poorly or not at all and mechanical failures were more frequent than what should be expected.

The MTA, however, said that it’s increased bus maintenance costs can be attributed to a higher passenger rate than peer systems and a higher density urban environment that results in much more “stop and go” traffic, which tends to be more taxing on engines, transmissions and brakes.

But MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan did say that the authority agrees with the findings and is taking steps to reduce costs.

"The MTA agrees with most of the report’s recommendations to help improve reliability and cost effectiveness and has taken steps in the past year to reduce bus maintenance costs,” he said.

As far as recommendations for improving the MTA and reducing costs, DiNapoli suggested that they identify reasons why maintenance costs are so high and develop plans to reduce them. He would also like to see the MTA prepare a comprehensive maintenance plan that includes information on maintenance program objectives and unscheduled maintenance operations.

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