The M.T.A.’s Access-A-Ride paratransit service, the largest in the nation, appears to be mishandling many customer complaints, according to an audit released by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The audit, the second in less than two years, follows a period of intense frustration from Access-A-Ride (AAR) users, who frequently come in droves to M.T.A. board meetings to voice their concerns.
After paratransit customers submit complaints to the M.T.A., the agency passes them to the contractor that provided the service for an investigation. However, Stringer found that there is very little oversight over contractors: the internal system used by the M.T.A., until recently, did not have a tracking function to ensure complaints were resolved within the required time period. In turn, agents essentially had to get creative, using “flagged emails,” an “electronic spreadsheet,” or a “manual logbook.”
In one case, where a rider claimed that the rider was driving 80 miles per hour, above the maximum of 40, “140 days had elapsed since the referral date and there was no evidence of any investigative results recorded […], or any follow-up.”
The audit also identified issues with the M.T.A.’s incident management system. When complaints are reported, a unique, sequential identifier is created to track the incident, however, it was discovered that in 2016 alone, there were “26,000 missing record reference numbers” across all M.T.A. operating agencies. When asked about the discrepancy, the M.T.A. could only provide documentation for the removal of 67 of the cases, and there are no logs providing an explanation for why the others disappeared.
Stringer has called for the creation of an “Access-A-Ride Ombudsperson,” who would advocate for riders within the organization.
The M.T.A. agreed with 13 of the 14 recommendations from the Comptroller’s office, and said that it “[…] has numerous efforts underway to continually improve the performance of AAR providers.”