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MTA admits to mistakes in blizzard response

Trains remain at a standstill in Ronkonkoma while

Trains remain at a standstill in Ronkonkoma while all service was suspended on the Long Island Rail Road. (Dec. 27, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

MTA leaders Wednesday admitted "mistakes were made" during the Christmas weekend blizzard and vowed to greatly improve response to snowstorms.

At a Manhattan meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's board of directors, chairman Jay Walder unveiled findings of a preliminary review of the agency's response to the Dec. 26-27 storm, which dumped up to 2 feet of snow in the region.

City subways and buses fared worst in the report, which criticized New York City Transit for "inability to quickly adapt to deteriorating conditions" and "underestimation of stranded customer issues." Riders on one A train were stranded for nine hours.

The report cited subway management's failure to activate its highest level of alert in a timely manner and to curtail and suspend service as necessary as some reasons for its problems.

The refusal to suspend service on MTA buses and move to the highest alert level also caused vehicles to get stuck on roads and strand passengers, the report said.

The Long Island Rail Road was commended in the report for taking the "proactive" step" of suspending service to avoid stranding trains. But the report said the agency "did not clearly communicate" with riders after some service was restored.

Metro-North Railroad "successfully adapted to quickly changing conditions" despite having some disabled trains and delays, according to the report. And the MTA's Bridges and Tunnels division "performed well."

Walder said the MTA has taken steps to improve its performance, including by creating "situation rooms" staffed with senior management and customer advocates during storms. The agency, looking to do more as part of a complete review, will consider acquisition of new and better snow-removal equipment and consult with transportation providers in snowy climates around the world to find "best practices."

"Literally from the day after we restored service, my goal and the goal of every one of the MTA agency presidents has been to be able to learn from situations we had and put new procedures and practices in place," Walder said.

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