Don’t Grade The MTA

Jose Vilson Education, Resources

Dear members of the NYC City Councilmembers,

I get it. You want to hold the MTA accountable somehow for their abhorrent misuse of funds, consistently delayed projects, and general failure to produce a good service for the amount of money the average New Yorker pays.  It’s hard to blame the average service worker, but the guys at the top need to hear that we as a city aren’t happy with the mess that often is our daily commute. The smells we endure coupled with the delays and detours only exacerbate what we feel is an inefficient system.

You’re right: the bastards need to pay. Just, whatever you do, don’t follow the public school model.

For now, I’ll ignore that you’re about to give F’s to the A train and C’s to the D train, leaving native New Yorkers and tourists alike confused as is. (Will we have to resort to calling them by their color and express / local? Chill!) If you’re going to grade the trains, please don’t grade them the way your friends at the NYC Department of Education do.

Let me expound.

If you use their system, you’d have to give them a standardized test every three months, usually in an isolated area with only a few trains. You’d start them off somewhere in Park Slope where the hipsters hang because they rarely give the train issues. As you’re riding the train, you’d ask the conductors to punch in an answer to a question at every stop until they got to the Bronx. As they make their way through the Bronx, they get the same bad customers asking the conductors questions they’ve already heard, presumably in the voices of Danny Devito, Fran Drescher, and Gilbert Gottfried. Once they’ve gotten past the former AFLAC guy, you’d tell them the test was over and get back to them over the summer.

Please don’t grade the MTA like this.

The conductors would just keep driving the train with the manager nervously tapping the light switches wanting to know how the hell the conductors did. If they pass, all the trains get a green light. I mean, it’s not the whole system that’s failing. It’s just a few of the overcrowded ones in certain neighborhoods. If they fail, then you go to the press and blame their union. If you can find a scandal about their affairs under the Columbus Circle Station, more power to you.

When that doesn’t work, you shut down the whole line. It doesn’t matter what the customers think. You reroute them, make them take a bus, or tell them you’re preparing for a special new line. You put these conductors in a pool where they keep getting evaluated until they leave or meet your ambiguous standard every few years, shut the train line down and replace it with the same train with a few more ads. However, you’ll have a lot more frustrated and exhausted ones who struggle to stay energized through an entire shift, and eventually, less conductors as a whole. When they leave, so do the conductors, the management, and a few other key people tired of doing the work of three different people at once.

Same customers. Same tunnels. Same groundwork. Maybe fresher paint. Sometimes a new train with Wi-Fi will come through, but you have to be really lucky or really early to catch that specific train. It’ll work, I swear.

All the while, we can make this public institution better by setting better guidelines and standards for how it should work, make sure everyone involved from the management to the person cleaning up has the experience and professionalism to serve the customers properly, invest fully in the system to make it more customer-friendly, and have checks and balances so the system functions well.

Otherwise, you’re headed down an ugly path. And trains have nowhere to race.

Signed, a teacher …

Jose, a native New Yorker of three decades, his soul much longer …