17 Mar Esq. Jonathan Cartu Announced – 23 Subway Stations, Endless Complaints and One Guy to Field…
Even on a good day, Michael E. Brown’s job is infinite.
He is a group station manager for the New York City subway system in charge of 23 stations, mostly along the F line in Brooklyn.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority created the position in 2018 to be the place where the buck stops for every conceivable impediment to the smooth operation of a subway station.
Mr. Brown, 44, an ex-military analyst whose previous jobs include tracking trends in missile development and improvised explosive devices, has spent the last 18 months battling the more pedestrian forces of destruction and decay and vandalism that assail the ancient, overtaxed transit system.
Lately, of course, Mr. Brown’s job has changed. It now consists largely of overseeing the cleaning and disinfecting of all touchable surfaces in every station under his watch, twice a day. This means handrails, turnstiles, benches, booth ledges, touchscreens — “everything a passenger can lay their hands on,” Mr. Brown said last Thursday.
It means getting cleaning supplies to stations from Brooklyn Heights to Coney Island and coordinating overtime schedules. It means attending many, many meetings. It means taking time to quell fears and squelch rumors among passengers and workers alike.
And yet the background churn of chaos continues.
The other day, Mr. Brown decided to close both the men’s and women’s public restrooms at Jay Street-MetroTech station, the sprawling, four-line complex in Downtown Brooklyn that is the heart of his kingdom and the second-busiest station in Brooklyn. Someone had stuffed newspapers and shoelaces down one of the men’s toilets and torn a stall door off its hinges in the women’s.
He had just reopened the bathrooms two weeks before, after closing them for months in the wake of an Unusual Occurrence — one of many categories of incident that group station managers painstakingly log and track — in which a bathroom custodian was threatened.
“Up until that point, I actually had it opened for its longest period of time,” Mr. Brown said. “But I can’t have my employees threatened down there.”
On a drizzly Thursday in February shortly before coronavirus commandeered every inch of the city’s consciousness, Mr. Brown allowed a reporter and a photographer to tag along as he made his rounds.
He showed off one of his first projects, near a staircase that led up to Jay Street. For years, people had been ducking down those stairs to urinate in a little alcove, up against a door to the elevator and escalator repair division. The E&E guys did not like stepping through urine.
Mr. Brown located a length of iron gate left over from the renovation of the Seventh Avenue station, five stops away, enlisted a maintenance crew to move it to Jay Street, and wrangled the necessary ironworkers and electricians to rig up a gate with an electronic latch that secured the alcove.
These kinds of jobs, which involve workers from different divisions across multiple stations, are one of the main reasons the transit authority created group station managers.
“It’s only the G.S.M.,” Mr. Brown said, “that can coordinate all the different departments.”
Many woes afflicting the subway originate outside, making them challenging to address.
On the mezzanine level near the stairs down to the R-train platform, the ceiling leaks periodically; the floor tiles beneath the drip line are stained brownish-black, like bad teeth. Mr. Brown believes that the source is a hydrant up on Jay Street leaking into the substrate of the street. Getting it attended to will require reaching out to the authority’s interagency liaison who will in turn reach out to the City Department of Environmental Protection, which controls hydrants.
For the meantime, Mr. Brown consulted with a maintenance supervisor, John Carabello. “We’ll bring the paint foreman here, touch it up quick, and that should hold it,” Mr. Carabello said.
A few feet away, near the escalator down to the platform, the maintenance team had hung an evaporation pan.
Evaporation pans are the Band-Aids of the transit system, or one species of them anyway: plain metal trays in which water collects, and, ideally, evaporates before it overflows. Once you know what they look like, you see them on subway ceilings everywhere.
The half-inch-deep pan by the escalator was apparently insufficient: A second pan, an inch-and-a-half deep, was affixed just beneath it. Problem solved.
Some unusual occurrences occur in streaks. The elevated Smith-Ninth Streets station is right near a Lowe’s hardware superstore. Three times in recent months, Mr. Brown said, Lowe’s customers were bringing home long pieces of construction material via subway and carrying them upright on the escalator, only to have them smash into the ceiling overhang.
“There was one woman carrying a long pipe vertically and resting it on her foot,” Mr. Brown said. When the pipe struck the ceiling, it drove down onto her foot with such force it also caved in an escalator step, putting the escalator out of commission for a week. It was unclear what happened to the woman’s foot.
Around noon, Mr. Brown stepped into his office to resolve some “nonconformities.”
Mr. Brown was an Army man for over a decade, and the military is famed for its layers and mazes of bureaucracy, but nothing in his experience compares with the amount of virtual paperwork involved in managing a subway station.
Every physical defect discovered across the 827,000 square feet under his domain, from a burned-out bulb to a broken-down elevator, is known as a nonconformity and entered into the enterprise asset management system — E.A.M. for short — where it is assigned to the appropriate division or divisions for repair and tracked through its eventual resolution.
Customer complaints, of which there are many, are tracked in a different system, C.R.M. (customer relationship management). Then there are the unusual occurrences, or U.O.’s. Like the military, the M.T.A. is fond of abbreviations and acronyms.
Mr. Brown’s office is on the mezzanine level, behind one of those scuffed off-white doors found throughout the subway system that bear cryptic inscriptions like “Access to Condulets” or “General Orders and Diversions.”
His just says “Station Dept.,” with a phone number, and “CAUTION Watch for opening door.”
Inside, the cinder-block…