Project Management Flaws in New York City’s Subways

Recently, the New York Times performed an extensive report on subway projects in New York City. It focused on East Side Access project which is meant to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Station, and the Second Avenue project, which connected the Number 7 line to Hudson Yards. The initial questions arose with the East Side Access project when an accountant discovered 900 employees on payroll for only 700 jobs to be performed. But this was just the start of the issues, as research soon exposed machines being operated by more than twice the number of workers necessary, workers being paid to perform outdated or flat-out unnecessary roles, and excessive management expenses, among many others. Most concerning about these subway projects are the way in which they are designed. Three entities play large roles: the Metropolitan Transit Authority, construction companies hired for various sub-processes, and labor unions for construction workers. Only the construction companies and labor unions are responsible for negotiating the contracts surrounding these projects, especially troublesome when considering that the taxpayer-funded M.T.A. is responsible for paying for the projects. Furthermore, both the labor unions representing workers and the construction companies, who receive a percentage of the total cost as repayment, are incentivized to drive up the total costs of projects. Clearly, many levels of the subway construction projects are bound to be mismanaged.

The route of the tunnel that will connect Grand Central to the LIRR.

The projects could be criticized for their definition from the start. The Second Avenue project was completed in a decade while a comparable project in Paris took only six years. This discrepancy highlighted inefficiencies in New York’s subway construction processes. Mistakes were also clearly made in selecting who would be in charge of the project. One M.T.A. employee was quoted as acknowledging that the 500 consultants they had hired to run the East Side Access project simply were not getting the job done well. Another executive at an outside firm said he believed some work that was completed by these consultants was only being performed so they could justify their high pay levels. The article does not identify any clear mistakes in terms of project planning, but it is safe to say that the severe over-employment of the East Side Access project drastically raises total costs. Accordingly, this means crash costs that could be incurred to speed up processes are almost out of the question as the project is already so expensive. An example of their failure to mitigate risk can be seen in higher accident rates. Although parties involved have argued that more employees increase safety, the Second Avenue project had 5.5 safety incidents per 200,000 work hours, outpacing the national average of 3.2 incidents. Clearly, increased employment is not resulting in savings from fewer mistakes. Finally, the controlling of the project structure can be questioned. The status quo of how these projects are contracted and negotiated in New York City is in line with the management of the East Side Access project and the Second Avenue project. Officials, when asked about the obvious issues in the process, admitted that while things were not ideal, they were unlikely to change soon. Such admissions show a clear failure in controlling projects going forwards. Overall, the various parties responsible for the state of New York City subway construction are severely lacking in their project management and thus introducing serious inefficiencies. Worst of all, these inefficiencies are paid for by citizens with no ability to change the status quo.


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7 thoughts on “Project Management Flaws in New York City’s Subways

  • February 7, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    It’s always been clear that the MTA is very inefficient in general. In particular though, the fact that the project was dragged out for a decade while France was able to complete a similar one in only 6 years is should be very upsetting to the tax payers of New York. In particular, a more striking fact is that this project in Paris is costing less than 1/6 the cost of the Second Avenue subway. The MTA chalks up the issue to the sheer number of people being employed for the project-many of whom are actually unnecessarily on the everyday payroll for the projects; for projects such as the East Side Access, they are using pre-existing tunnels. When the New York Times saw the Labor deals made by the Vendors and Unions, they found a slew of jobs that were not on any other projects of this type anywhere else. Although, you can’t blame the Union for fighting for their workers, you can blame NY for allowing their inefficiency to hurt their own tax payers.

  • February 7, 2018 at 11:54 pm

    Whenever in New York City, it is very apparent to me how poorly the subway situation is and how the metro institution seems to only get worse. Not only does the physical state of each subway station seem to look more deteriorated after each month, but also the subways themselves seem to be operated inadequately. The MTA manages their tracks on a consistently late schedule. With New York as one of the biggest metropolises in the world, this tendency of course causes major issues as commuters and travelers alike are delayed to their activities. Taking these factors into consideration, it is appalling how the MTA has failed to make any significant changes. Citizens of New York City pay taxes to receive appropriate transportation that is insufficiently delivered. The projects have been ongoing to no avail. Other great cities like Paris fix these issues promptly. I lived in Paris last semester and the metro system was fluid and well monitored. Managers of each station respond to every conflict within seconds and there are even workers that walk around to ensure safety and proper practice. With the ever increase threat of terrorism, and the recent terrorist attack under Port Authority in Manhattan, having more workers to not only respond to problems, but also protect everyday travelers. Being more like European metro systems in this sense would prove to be very beneficial to the MTA. Another interesting question to consider is with Amtrak. Amtrak has been in the news recently over some unfortunate incidences caused by deficient management. I think both Amtrak and the MTA could both benefit from prompt revisions to their processes by adding more laborers to oversee their operations.

  • February 8, 2018 at 8:26 am

    I think looking at the train system in Europe would be a good first step for the New York M.T.A., and Amtrak as well. Consistently, the train systems in Europe have been rated safer, cleaner, and overall more enjoyable. As stated in some other comments, because the Metro is publicly funded, taxpayers need to push for not only more funds allocated to this process, but also a better usage of them. In re-engineering the Metro processes, it seems the work is inefficient, the project over-employed, and the overall scheme simply not the optimal way to implement effective change. A situation like this would benefit from extensive process analysis, as Nick noted that the consultants were only putting in work to justify their high salaries. For a means of public transportation in a mecca like New York, it is surprising greater steps are not taken to better improve these processes in a more diligent manner.

  • February 8, 2018 at 10:09 am

    As someone who lives just 45 minutes away from the city, and takes the metro north, to and from it, this article is very unsettling. It strikes me as very odd that the claimed “Greatest City on Earth” would have these problems. Nick and Sarah bring up the point about France, and how it took 1/6 the cost and 4 less years to do the same project, which is a concerning statistic to the tax payers that are paying for this project. To me, this comes down to management, and improper customer loyalty. It is clear that the management of this project and the New York City subway system as a whole do not have a great enough understanding of their staff and the ongoing activities occurring in their department. In a business whose number 1 priority is convenience for its customers, they lack concern that they could ever lose customers. They must understand how much of a pain it is to travel in the city, and that although efficiency is down for their system, it is still the best and most convenient way to travel in New York. My last concern is that New York has lost a passion for quality that other cities around the world are taking advantage of. When you look at cities like London, Paris, and Tokyo that are much cleaner and technologically efficient, New York doesn’t seem like the greatest city on earth anymore.

  • February 8, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    This topic interested me, because of my recent experience with the heart of NYC in Manhattan on a career services Spider Road trip with the university that took us to Manhattan and Brooklyn. While there, our group frequently took the metro and experienced the stress, late schedules, and grime that infamously characterizes the subway there. From this article, I could clearly see that there were extreme inefficiencies for workers, jobs, and budget. In terms of project management, the East Side Access Project is not streamlined nor are they truly defining nor sticking to their project planning. In the article, it mentions that for every new mile of track, $3.5 billion are being spent to make that happen and the city is actually losing money from the system. It is not clear how authorities scheduled the project in terms of calculating critical path time, establishing start and finish times, or monitoring for risks. In an article examining the pros presented in other international subway systems, NYC could learn from Paris to view the system as an investment in the country, and to create more lines and stations to accommodate growing population and visitors. London is also progressive for their faster, more convenient payment system, and streamlining all transportation under one authority. Personally, this is one of the largest factors, along with the overwhelming amount of tourists and people, that hinders me from wanting to live or work in NYC.

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