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Quinn Grills MTA, Calls Blizzard Breakdown ‘Beyond Shocking’

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The New York City Council holds a hearing on the MTA's meltdown during the post-Christmas blizzard of 2010 - New York, NY - Jan 14, 2011 - Photo: Rich Lamb / WCBS 880

The New York City Council holds a hearing on the MTA’s meltdown during the post-Christmas blizzard of 2010 – New York, NY – Jan 14, 2011 – Photo: Rich Lamb / WCBS 880

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NEW YORK (CBS New York/AP) — New York City transit officials on Friday acknowledged gross failures in responding to the post-Christmas blizzard, an effort that City Council President Christine Quinn called “beyond shocking.”

PHOTO GALLERIES: Holiday Blizzard Slams East Coast | User-Submitted Pictures

The Council held a hearing on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s slow response to the Dec. 26 storm that dumped more than 2 feet of snow on parts of the city. The hearing, to examine the performance of subways and buses during the storm, was the second in a week on the city’s cleanup failure.

WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reports

The snow this week resulted in far fewer transit problems than the blizzard did late last month. So the question remains, why did so much go so wrong then?

Almost immediately, the hearing turned contentious when Quinn blasted Transit Authority President Tom Prendergast for failing to provide written copies of their testimony. Prendergast explained they were overwhelmed by the storm and didn’t have time. Quinn called his explanation “outrageous” and “disrespectful.”

Transit officials admitted that they dropped the ball and failed in their response during the storm. “In the blizzard of Dec. 2010, we did not live up to our standards, while we did many things right, we did somethings that need improvement and we did a number of things extremely poorly,” Prendergast said.

Prendergast acknowledged the MTA did not have a situation room up and running to coordinate efforts among its systems and other city agencies, including the Office of Emergency Management.

“The fact that we failed to call a highest level of alert as soon as we had a blizzard was a serious failure on our part,” Prendergast admitted. “Once we knew that a blizzard was upon us we should’ve formally notified and made the decision to go to a plan four which we did not do for almost 19 hours.”

Quinn lost her temper and called the MTA’s response “ridiculous” and “beyond shocking.” “Blizzards don’t happen every week, but it’s not like a swarm of locusts came into New York City, something we have never seen before — it snows here!”

MTA officials said they had been lulled into a false sense of security by weather reports leading up to the blizzard and ended up sending out hundreds of buses into service — many of them under equipped for snow duty — to service shoppers on the busy Christmas holiday weekend.

Darryl Irick, head of the MTA’s bus division, said about 450 buses were on the road when the storm hit and more than 100 were added as the snow fell.    “We did have a breakdown in communication,” said Irick, referring to a lack of information being passed among agencies and to those operating buses and subways.

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg with an update from the hearing

The chairman of the council’s transportation committee, James Vacca, pointed out that 1,000 buses were stuck in the snow. He said passengers on an A subway train were stranded for seven hours after the train grounded to a halt in Brooklyn.

 “I sit here feeling more worried about the future of the mass transit system to deal with a snowstorm than I was during the snowstorm watching 650 to 1,000 buses be stuck in the snow,” Quinn said.

Vacca said commuters’ patience is growing thin over bad service. He said the MTA’s response to the snow emergency was among the slowest in decades.

Commuters’ frustrations grew after they learned that they would not be receiving MetroCard refunds for service disruptions during the major storm while also dealing with a fare hike. “It’s unfair to New Yorkers,” Harry Taggert, of Bensonhurst, said. “Service is bad. Everything is bad and look what happened in the snowstorm. Now they’re gonna raise it another quarter?”

The strife doesn’t end there. The MTA’s ongoing $11.2 billion capital construction project will disrupt service this weekend on 16 subway lines. That includes the beginning of a long-term rehabilitation project on the F and G lines, which is scheduled to continue through the spring of 2012.

Prior to the hearing, members of the TWU, the union which represents MTA workers, said that they did all they could to help out the residents New York City. The blame the MTA management and budget woes saying the agency refuses to spend the money necessary to get the city through this crisis and keep the system running.

Members of the union said the MTA needs to answer to the people.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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