Executive Summary

The objective of this audit was to determine whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) New York City Transit (NYCT) has established adequate controls over the Access-A-Ride (AAR) complaint resolution process.  Specifically, the audit determined whether the controls provide reasonable assurance that: (1) all complaints are accounted for; (2) complaints are properly categorized; (3) complaints are adequately addressed and resolved in a timely manner; and (4) investigatory procedures are consistently followed.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), public transportation authorities are required to provide a paratransit system for people with disabilities who are unable to use public bus or subway service.  In New York City (City), NYCT administers the AAR paratransit service.  This service, overseen by NYCT’s Paratransit Division (Paratransit), provides shared-ride, door-to-door transportation throughout the five boroughs and in parts of Nassau and Westchester counties 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays.

AAR primarily delivers service through contracts with a network of private vendors, including 13 Dedicated Carriers (DCs) and two Broker Car Service Providers (BCSPs)[1].   DCs use Paratransit-owned vehicles, which are specially-equipped buses and cars, to provide AAR trips.  BCSPs provide transportation services to ambulatory passengers through a network of subcontracted livery and black car service providers.  During Calendar Year 2016, Paratransit paid over $292 million to DCs and over $34 million to BCSPs for more than 6 million combined AAR trips.

This audit focused on NYCT’s handling of customer complaints about AAR services provided by the DCs.  Most of these complaints pertain to issues with drivers—including unsafe driving, rude drivers and late pick-ups—as well as complaints about dispatchers and the conditions of vehicles.  Complaints, suggestions, inquiries and commendations about AAR services (collectively referred to as “incidents”) can be reported to Paratransit by: (1) calling the NYCT Paratransit Comment Line (Comment Line); (2) writing a letter to Paratransit; or (3) sending an email using the “Contact Us” link on the MTA website.

During Calendar Year 2016, there were 47,001 recorded AAR incidents.  Of these, 32,938 incidents were related to DCs and unidentified carriers, and were included as part of this audit.  Approximately 86 percent of the 32,938 incident records were based on calls made to the Comment Line.

Audit Findings and Conclusion

The audit found internal control weaknesses in NYCT’s processes for handling AAR complaints that have led to some complaints not being investigated and others not being investigated within required timeframes.  These deficiencies create increased health and safety risks to AAR customers and to the general public.  Although we found that NYCT generally follows its internal procedures for receiving, processing and referring AAR complaints to the appropriate Paratransit units for investigation, we identified deficiencies in several areas that need to be improved.

In particular, we found:

  • NYCT does not adequately track complaint referrals and resolutions, which increases the risk that they will not be investigated in a timely manner, if at all. We specifically found complaints that were never referred for investigation that should have been, and others that were referred but not investigated for weeks and months beyond required time frames.
  • Further, we found insufficient controls over the Contract Management Unit’s handling of referred complaints.
    • There were no written policies and procedures governing the investigations and verification processes performed by the Contract Management Unit’s Contract Managers.
    • There was no evidence of NYCT’s assessment of the Contract Managers’ performance in addressing the referred complaints.
    • There was no evidence of the Contract Managers’ assessment of the DCs’ responses to the sampled referred complaints. As a result, NYCT had limited assurance that complaints were adequately addressed by the DCs, which increases the risk to public safety.
  • There were inadequate reviews of incident data, which increased the risk that incidents will not be categorized correctly, will not be properly referred for investigation, and/or will not be closed within the prescribed time frames.
  • NYCT has inadequate controls to enable it to provide reasonable assurance that AAR incidents are completely and accurately recorded in its database.

Audit Recommendations

Based on the audit, we make 14 recommendations, including the following:

  • NYCT should immediately review the Oracle Service Cloud (OSC) system records to identify any referred complaints without investigation results, and follow up with the units to which these complaints were referred to ensure that investigations have been completed and that the complaints have been appropriately addressed. The incident records should then be updated to reflect the investigation results.
  • NYCT should modify Paratransit’s primary database for recording and tracking AAR incidents, the OSC system, to enable better tracking of incidents and the results of investigations.
  • NYCT should develop and disseminate written policies and procedures to appropriate personnel, including Contract Management Unit Contract Managers, detailing the required steps to be performed for each complaint referred for investigation, including initial complaint reviews, assessments of DCs’ actions and follow-up reviews.
  • NYCT should formally review and document its evaluations of individual Contract Manager’s performance in addressing referred complaints in order to ensure that adequate steps are taken and that proper assessments of DCs’ actions are made.
  • NYCT should prepare written assessments of the DCs’ investigative steps and corrective actions taken to address referred complaints.
  • NYCT should require periodic supervisory reviews of the incident records to ensure that Paratransit Customer Relations Unit (CRU) agents are appropriately categorizing and referring complaints for investigation.
  • NYCT should modify OSC to allow it to generate an exception report and/or audit trail, which would identify missing reference numbers and associated record details, such as the means by which an incident was reported or the agent’s name or unit. This would enable NYCT to investigate the cause of missing records and to assess whether any potential issues need to be addressed.

Agency Response

In ts response, NYCT generally agreed with 13 of the audit’s 14 recommendations.  The agency disagreed with our recommendation that it require CRU agents to record their referral decisions in OSC and document their reasons for not referring complaints for investigation, arguing that NYCT currently has a procedure which already addresses this issue.  However, the procedure NYCT refers to in its response merely provides guidance to CRU agents regarding how investigations should be conducted; it does not provide assurance that the procedure is actually followed and that agents are making the correct referral decisions.

[1] NYCT had one additional DC for AAR service during part of Calendar Year 2016, however NYCT terminated the contract as of February 2016.  In addition to the DCs and BCSPs, under certain circumstances, NYCT also authorizes taxi reimbursements to AAR customers for trips that originate and end in the same borough, and provides vouchers for some Staten Island AAR customers to use with one of the local livery car services that are under contract with Paratransit.