Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Another Point of View on Broken Escalators

Via @ Graffiti on the metro. "What's going on here? Sheer incompetence!"

This is from a group of private escalator and elevator contractors with skin in the game, but since we usually only ever hear Metro's side via their massive PR machine and much of the local media, I think it's fair to hear the other side as well. Remember how Metro handles escalator problems.

What do you think?
Metro elevators and escalators are often in the news but never for the right reasons.

Decisions were made years ago for WMATA to maintain 100 percent of Metro's elevators and escalators by WMATA's own mechanics. This is the primary reason for today's dire state of repair. Decisions are again being made that will either signal WMATA's decision to recover the public's trust and safety or to continue down a road to even less dependable elevators and escalators. WMATA needs to ultimately put 100 percent of the elevator and escalator maintenance out to bid to private contractors.

Recently, WMATA showed an interest in making a shift to private contractors as they were accepting proposals to maintain approximately 250 elevators and escalators. The request has devastatingly changed to around only 80 units. This represents a small fraction of the total number of elevators and escalators in the Metro system and is not an acceptable start to correcting this vexing problem.

The reasons for the continued reliance on Metro's own mechanics is clear - more jobs and bigger budgets.

WMATA currently has over 200 full time positions dedicated to the Elevator/Escalator maintenance program and maintain availability rates of around 85 percent. Prior to the early 90s, private contractors took care of all of Metro's elevators/escalators with fewer than 70 mechanics and frequented 97 percent availability.

Private contractors performed better with less manpower while costing riders and taxpayers less.

When private contractors work for WMATA they are given incentives for proper performance and disincentives for poor performance. Contractors who repeatedly perform poorly get replaced. Financial incentives are given to contractors for escalator reliability over 90 percent and elevator availability for over 97 percent. These are benchmarks that WMATA's own mechanics will never obtain and honestly, they have no incentive to do so. WMATA mechanics are handicapped by a number of factors that will prevent them from ever performing as well as private contractors regularly do.

Mechanics for private contractors that don't perform get fired. Big Incentive. Mechanics for WMATA that don't perform keep working. No incentive. Additionally, WMATA mechanics under the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) contract have what is called a “pick system.” Every six months senior mechanics get to pick the stations they work in while displacing less senior mechanics that have potentially worked hard to keep their units running. This leads to a culture of unmotivated senior mechanics that rotate from station to station while removing incentives for mechanics that have a desire to perform well.

Private contractors have no seniority and no “pick system.” The best jobs go to the most qualified and hardworking people.

These qualified mechanics work for the companies that research, develop, design, build, install, service/repair and maintain all of the elevators and escalators around the world. Before working on elevator and escalators in the field, each mechanic completes a nationally recognized elevator/escalator education program, the National Elevator Industry Education Program (NEIEP.) This is the elevator/escalator education program that 100 percent of the contractors who design, build and install elevator and escalators in the USA rely upon.

Years ago WMATA started its own elevator and escalator training program. WMATA probably told us something about how “Metro escalators” are different than in the mall or airport because some are really long. Well no, no they’re not. There are many different manufactures and various different installations of escalators across the country but there are also people trained to work on them. In fact, there are about 1,200 people who do this work in the metro DC area everyday.

WMATA's training program is on timeout right now. Why? We don't know. But don't worry they are going to get it started again. Along with this comes a need to hire more staff and increase budgets. This will be the next official “solution” to fix Metro's elevators and escalators. What have they been doing for the past 20 years? Let's now offer job advancement to ATU members and train them to be entry-level elevator and escalator mechanics. We'll just throw some more money and more members at it and “one day” the problems will go away. Magic!

Let's not, the NEIEP training program is privately funded, provides results and already has a workforce in place.

WMATA has a prolonged history of continuing to present the next big “solution.” They started with an availability rate of up to 97 percent and gave us a “solution” of creating an elevator and escalator maintenance department for their ATU members. Now we frequently have less that 85 percent reliability and numerous high profile accidents.

WMATA then has a “solution” called increased staffing. More jobs and bigger budgets but of course without better results.

WMATA again has a “solution” named capital improvement. The public is told that parts are unavailable and therefore elevators and escalators need to be replaced. Interpret this as an inability to keep their elevators and escalators in good working order from a lack of proper maintenance and a lie as elevator and escalator parts are readily available from numerous sources.

WMATA uses capital improvement as an opportunity to bring in private contractors to install new or to refurbish units where they have failed to maintain them. This is nothing more than an attempt to get the public off their backs for a while as they are throwing a bunch of money at their mistakes and promise that “one day” the problems will all be solved. Magic!

After private contractors finish rebuilding Metro's elevators and escalators the cycle will repeat. Poor maintenance, reduced product life-cycle, more excuses and expense for the public. Not a solution.

Over 1,200 experienced mechanics are employed in this area and are immediately available to go to work properly maintaining and repairing Metro's elevators and escalators. This is the only real solution.

Do we want WMATA do continue to hire people who are guaranteed a job for life in a department with a losing track record? Do we want to be told about more “solutions” on top of past “solutions” when we have already seen the success produced when private contractors took care of WMATA's elevators and escalators?

We encourage the WMATA board and General Manager Sarles to do the right thing and increase the amount of elevator and escalator maintenance that is going out to bid to private contractors. The “next solution” propaganda needs to stop and Metro needs real solutions with real results. It's time to again have qualified elevator and escalator mechanics maintaining Metro's elevators and escalators.
Other items:
More fraud, waste and abuse (WTOP)
Metrobus use surges, rail lags (Examiner)
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