The MTA says it's investigating why 600 buses had to be abandoned during this week's blizzard, blocking snowplows and leaving bus drivers and their passengers without a way home. A combination of technical and supervisory failures appear to have led to the debacle.
A union official who drove a bus for 15 years, and who spoke on background, says the problems began because the MTA generally equips its buses with tires built for long life but little traction. The official says the authority then decided against putting chains on many buses to save on overtime costs because it takes two workers 30 minutes to fit each bus.
He further charges that as conditions got worse in the field, senior supervisors could have convinced the central bus command to pull vehicles off the street--but because of the holidays, depots were staffed with low-ranking dispatchers.
MTA spokeswoman Deirdre Parker issued a statement describing how the agency "sprung into action" at forecasts of a blizzard, and that now they "will do a full review to analyze our performance and see where we can improve in the future."
As to specific allegations by the union leader, she would only say that articulated buses and "some other buses" had chains on their wheels. She conceded that others did not, though she didn't know how many.
Chairman Jay Walder defended the agency's actions on Tuesday by saying it wanted to avoid marooning passengers in the snow. But Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign wondered what was gained by dispatching bus after bus, only to have them end up snagged in roadside drifts or rendered immobile in the middle of major thoroughfares.
"I've gotta believe that the bus drivers were radioing back to the depots, telling them they were getting caught in drifts and they were having real difficulty seeing through the wind conditions," he said. "So when did it dawn on the depot managers that sending out more buses was like sending out lambs to the slaughter?"