The MTA’s internal watchdog got more complaints than ever before last year, according to a new report showing the Office of Inspector General got 1,400 grievances about the transit agency in 2021.
That breaks the OIG’s previous record set in 2019 when it got 1,375 complaints about the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Almost three-quarters (71%) of issues last year were about New York City Transit, the MTA’s subsidiary in charge of running the city’s subways and buses, however, the agency is also by far the largest making up 68% of the Authority’s nearly 67,000 employees.
More than half (54%) of the complaints were about employee misconduct, and the largest share, or 40%, came from the public, according to the OIG’s annual review of its oversight work.
“Our office is committed to providing the public with insight into OIG activities wherever possible,” said acting MTA Inspector General Elizabeth Keating in a statement Wednesday. “With this report we hope to reinforce the confidence New Yorkers have in our office, as we work to help optimize the present and future operations of the MTA.”
The inspector general’s office has uncovered some eyebrow-raising cases, such as the destruction of MTA’s only boat, toll-dodging employees, out of control overtime, and byzantine construction project practices.
The issues came to light under former IG Carolyn Pokorny, a nominee of ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo who took over as the first woman to lead the office in 2019, but left in the new year to join the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn.
Keating took over in an acting capacity and Governor Kathy Hochul still has to nominate Pokorny’s permanent successor to be confirmed by the State Senate.
The year was marked by a shakeup of the MTA’s leadership against the backdrop of sexual harassment scandals that led to the resignation of former Governor Cuomo in August, extreme storms, and the second COVID-19 pandemic year continuing to depress ridership.
MTA construction big Janno Lieber took over as the agency’s new chairperson and CEO after the departure of Pat Foye and Craig Cipriano ascended to become the head of NYCT after his predecessor Sarah Feinberg’s exit.
Of the 34 reports the OIG published in 2021, half were about waste, fraud, and abuse, and 35% concerned transparency issues, accountability, and fraud deterrence.
The work led to 38 disciplinary actions, up 90% from 2020 and 280% from 2019, and the OIG questioned more than $695 million in agency spending, recouping over $2.5 million.
One of the weirdest cases was when a pair of transit workers with scant seafaring experience tried to help out with repairs of the subway tunnel near Roosevelt Island, but on their way back crashed the MTA’s only boat — aptly named “Perfect Storm” — into the rocky coast of southern Brooklyn in October 2020.
Pokorny’s office also detailed how MTA’s $31 million efforts to transition to an electronic timekeeping system were at risk because less workers were using it, allowing for more overtime abuse which has been a notorious problem for the MTA.
The agency’s infamously steep construction contractor costs also drew scrutiny, specifically the complex and routinely incomplete documentation of projects, and the review labeled the MTA’s guidance for record keeping “ponderous and confusing.”
The Authority’s two law enforcement arms, the MTA Police Department and Bridges and Tunnels police, both showed a lack of transparency for how they handled misconduct complaints, according to a pair of reports by the OIG.
Cuomo ballooned MTA PD overtime spending for special projects to boot homeless people from the transit system, tackle fare evasion, and enforce the subway’s unprecedented pandemic-era overnight shutdown, the OIG found.
The office also singled out some individual bad actors, including a senior MTA bus supervisor who dodged more than $100,000 in tolls by obscuring his plates, and a bus driver who spent his sick leave gambling in Atlantic City.
In a statement, MTA spokesperson Michael Cortez said:
“The MTA has long been encouraging New Yorkers ‘if you see something, say something,’ and one result has been the Office of Inspector General having an opportunity to review concerns raised. We routinely cooperate with those reviews.”