Construction crews in July wrapped up the MTA’s $2.2 million project for a fancy new bus-washing station at the Casey Stengel depot just north of Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. But when workers went to test the washer, they found that Metropolitan Transportation Authority engineers didn’t leave enough space for the three-foot power-washers used to blast crud off of the buses.
The 13-foot-wide station is used to clean the underside of buses and the interior engine parts. IT has walls on two sides to prevent debris from splashing onto mechanics and other employees, and it also isn’t wide enough for the panels that enclose the bus engines to unfurl.
“This should be six feet wider — the other ones are 20 feet,” said one confounded MTA employee at the depot. “They never asked anyone here. MTA engineers designed this thing, but didn’t talk to the people who would use it.”
MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said the agency’s contractor will fix the issue by making a “basic modification” to the station by expanding it by 1.5 inches. That additional space would still not provide enough room for the hoses.
The change “involves moving some translucent splash panels to provide the less than two additional inches needed to accommodate articulated buses,” said Tarek. “The entire project will be completed below budget.”
By the time the new washing station was finished, transit officials had already decommissioned the old cleaning station at the depot. Employees are now using the area where the old station was placed to clean the buses, leaving other workers in the already cramped depot in the splash zone.
“This is hot, steaming water and it’s flying all over the place,” said an employee. “We’re doing the best we can, but the buses aren’t being adequately cleaned.”
The MTA decided to replace the bus washing station because the agency had ordered a batch of 60-foot articulated buses for the depot, which were too long to fit into the old washer designed for 40-foot buses.
Engineers put in a whole new lift that can raise the longer buses to clean them from beneath, and poured concrete pads to hold the washing station’s enclosures in place.
“It’s another example of an MTA boondoggle,” said Earl Phillips, an official for Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents some 40,000 MTA employees. “They should stop blaming workers for their own mismanagement.”
Tarek said the buses are still being washed, and the issue has resulted in no changes in service.
Mark Henry, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056, which also represents some workers at Casey Stengel depot, said the bus-washing fiasco was just the latest bad decision made by MTA managers at the depot.
A room designed to paint buses inside the depot has been used as a storage space for at least nine years, Henry said.