Which city is this analysis from?

by on December 4, 2010 at 4:51 am in Economics | Permalink

…maintenance personnel bid on the escalators for which they’ll be responsible. Workers with the most seniority get the first choices…

The source said it’s very common for someone with seniority to bid on escalators they know to be well maintained so they can slide and and not do anything for the six months it's under their "care."

“They can coast for a while,” the source said. “Then when problems start, they can move on,” leaving an ailing escalator under the supervision of someone with less experience.

This way of doing things, the source said, "destroys the incentive" of the younger workers who know that if they do a good job, their escalators will be taken away by someone with more seniority.

“There’s a culture in which you don’t really have to perform to keep your job,” they said.

Hint: if you guessed Minsk, Belarus, you are wrong!  The full story is here and for the pointer I thank Stan Tsirulnikov.

1 Thrive December 4, 2010 at 1:52 am

well it's been a long journey from Milan to Minsk… ROCHELLE ROCHELLE

2 DaveyNC December 4, 2010 at 4:19 am

@Iff, you are assuming that the inexperienced workers are eager to gain experience. The culture seems to be one of coasting, not working (overly much).

Monopolist/government workers.

3 Alan December 4, 2010 at 4:27 am

Argh! The previous post should read, "where the plumbers went on strike…"

4 db December 4, 2010 at 5:56 am

"I see no reason to assume that DC Metro workers are any different."

Ha, you must not ride metro much.

5 DaveyNC December 4, 2010 at 6:36 am

@Iff, I'll put my anecdotes up against your anecdotes any day!

Seriously, I note that your response was cleverly written about "technical fields". Did those technical fields include escalator repair? Were the people you worked with union members?

6 L. F. File December 4, 2010 at 7:13 am

@DaveyNC My only reason for specifying "technical fields" is because my experience is with technical workers. Escalator repair is outside my area of expertise but I would suspect it is much more technician oriented than laborer oriented. The public sector employees I worked with were all represented by various public employee "unions" some quite militant. The private sector employees were not in general – some were government contractors and often had some union representation.

In terms of energy, motivation, ambition, etc. I found little difference in younger workers' attitudes across public/private, union/non-union.


7 j Thomas December 4, 2010 at 9:11 am

1. If you leave thousand dollar bills lying around, somebody's likely to take them. If you have bad labor policies somebody might abuse them. We don't have to insult escalator workers to discuss bad management practice.

2. There are lots of anecdotal horror stories going around about union workers abusing their jobs. I don't know what to believe about that, but I note that unions tend to form where there has been bad labor relations in the past, and bad labor relations tend to persist afterward. Abusive union stories are a sign that something is wrong, but it isn't clear how to fix it. The obvious approach of course is to destroy the unions like we destroyed the Nazis and then justice and truth can prevail, but….

If the total number of escalator repair guys is not large, it's a personal thing with them and their manager, and general principles get swallowed up in local concerns. But if there are a lot of them then there's room for general principles to play a part.

You'd want to pair off new guys against a variety of experienced workers so they can learn from them.

You'd want the experienced guys to have a clear sense -that their jobs are safe, so they'll teach new guys. If they don't feel like they have job security they're likely to try to create job security by keeping secrets to make themselves indispensible. But experienced guys usually won't mind if you fire somebody who's gotten some seniority who doesn't pull his weight. They want to feel safe themselves. But unions care about everybody with seniority, unless they are consulted and they agree.

You can't avoid occasional breakdowns. You want to fix them quickly. They will tend to come in clusters. So if you have enough guys to fix clusters of breakdowns quickly, they will have lots of time when nothing is happening. You can put them to work doing preventive maintenance, but too much preventive maintenance will cause breakdowns. You have to accept that you aren't paying them to be busy all the time. If you insist that they look busy, that's the first little hypocrisy that gets them thinking it's OK to just pretend….

If you want things done well, how does that fit letting the employees decide every six months which jobs to do? That's a decision that should be handled at a higher level. If somebody prefers a particular escalator because when he's there he can walk home and eat lunch with his family, you can take that into account. Letting the employees choose for themselves looks plain wrong. But it could be a result of union negotiation, something bargained away for something else that's more important.

So it seems to me that a business that does not have a union has got something that's very very valuable. And management which loses this treasure for some temporary advantage is making an extremely bad choice. Later they may get the chance to tell horror stories about how terrible their union is, but that's not much comfort.

8 SONORAMA December 4, 2010 at 10:48 am

A whole book could be written about the escalators in the DC metro. The metro system there has more escalators than any other. They are also set to run slower than standard escalators. The system is also known for having very long escalators, particularly at the Roslyn and Wheaton stations, Wheaton having the longest escalators in the Western Hemisphere.

9 jay December 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm

I work in a building with 2 pair of escalators that most employees must use to enter the building. At least one of the 4 is out of service monthly. My question: are escalators not a solved problem?

10 J Thomas December 5, 2010 at 9:03 am


June 10, 2010
Metro operates 588 escalators in its rail system. Managers say their goal is having 93 percent of them operating on any given day. Escalators are sometimes shut off deliberately.

"We want to rehab and repair [them]," explained Metro spokesman Reggie Woodruff. “To make sure we don't experience any big breakdowns."

In February, escalator availability at Metro slid to about 88 percent. That was probably a result of the tough winter weather. By April, according to Metro's published data, escalator availability had climbed back to 90 percent, but that is still short of the goal of 93 percent.

Part of the problem is the age of some of the transit system's escalators — 30 years.

"Some of the companies that originally provided the parts, they don't exist anymore," explained Metro spokesman Woodruff.

October 14, 2010
Among the actions taken to date include addressing immediate safety concerns, improving housekeeping practices of removing debris and unrelated equipment from work areas in elevator/escalator pits, adding 11 new mechanics, increasing and repositioning rapid response teams for improved response during rush hours in alignment with ridership trends, implementing a new management development program and increasing focus on supervision and quality assurance audits. ….

The audit of the workforce utilization revealed that Metro has solid maintenance standards in place that require improved follow through and compliance. It was also determined that co-locating the elevator/escalator operation control center (EOC) with the maintenance operation control (MOC) center has improved communication and thus, response time. Findings that require further action include the need to: have all elevator/escalator issues transmitted to the EOC instead of the MOC; develop a more balanced preventative maintenance schedule; provide additional training for mechanics on necessary closeout information; and increase in the number of supervisors.

The maintenance management system audit findings conveyed the need for additional software development and user training so that the system can be fully utilized.

The physical audit of the escalators and elevators revealed a lack of adherence to maintenance standards and a need to address water intrusion in machine rooms.

While the assessment was underway, Metro worked aggressively between June and September to maintain and upgrade a number of escalators and elevators. Work completed includes:
• Escalator modernizations (11 completed, 7 in progress)
• Escalator repairs (36 completed, 6 in progress)
• Escalator preventative maintenance (671 completed)
• Elevator repairs (7 completed, 1 in progress)
• Elevator modernizations (2 in progress)
• Elevator preventative maintenance (412 completed)

So completely replacing an obsolete elevator takes awhile, and that elevator cannot be used until it is completely replaced. They try to do that sort of thing when the Metro is not being used.

They think their plan is good, but it has been failing partly because they didn't have enough supervisors to make sure the plan is being followed.

December 5, 2010
Metro maintenance crews are rushing to repair the 105 escalators and elevators damaged by this week’s torrential rains before the arrival of an expected onslaught of visitors during the holiday weekend, officials said.

David Lacosse, director of elevator and escalator maintenance, said that, if there was one truth in his job, it’s that "water and electricity simply don’t mix."

Crews working around the clock have been able to repair motors and replace switches and fuses on 46 units this week.

Metro officials expect about 20 of the system’s 851 units — 588 escalators and 263 elevators — will still be down because of water damage by Monday, Lacosse said.

A dozen escalators and five elevators were already down for major overhauls before the storms hit, officials said. ….

LaCosse said routine maintenance and inspections — which take about 40 escalators and elevators out of service daily — will be put on hold during the holiday.

They want 93% reliability. Scheduled maintenance takes about 30 escalators out of service each day. That's 5%, leaving 2% for actual equipment failures, some of which will take more than a day to repair.

It looks like their biggest single opportunity to improve reliability is to find a way to do scheduled maintenance without taking the escalators out of service while the system is open.

The issue of which mechanics do maintenance on which escalators looks like a minor part of it. But it could have subtle subliminal implications.

11 techreseller December 7, 2010 at 6:08 am

Sure the young new workers show up eager to learn and advance. Slowly the culture takes over and they in a relatively short period begin to understand what is really expected and conform. Change the policy. Change it the tech with seniority gets to select his escalator, but then he owns it. No changing two years later. Then you can measure effective preventive maintenance, down time etc.

12 Unsuck DC Metro December 7, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Would have been nice to have mentioned the blog's name in the post.

Even the stodgy Washington Post has come around to stomach printing the word Unsuck.

You should, too.

Mr Unsuck

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