Monday, November 3, 2008

Roosevelt Island Tram Modernization - Questions Still Need To Be Asked and Answered!

Roosevelt Island Tram image from J Blough

There will be a RIOC Board of Directors meeting this Thursday, November 6. The only Agenda Item is the following:
Aerial Tramway Modernization Project: Authorization to Enter Design/Build and Operating & Management Contracts (Board Action Required)
A decision on the Roosevelt Island Tram modernization project was scheduled to be made at the October 23 RIOC Board meeting but was postponed for two weeks because several RIOC Board members did not believe RIOC management provided sufficient information or time to review the information given before the meeting.

Presumably, the Board members have been able to ask and receive answers to their questions during the past two weeks and will be able to vote up or down on whether to approve RIOC management's decision to award the Tram Modernization contract to POMAgalski instead of Doppelmayr. At least one RIOC Board member expressed concerns over Poma's prior safety record particularly since he had to discover this information himself and that it was not provided by RIOC staff.

Will this new RIOC Board also revisit the decision of a prior RIOC Board to select the Tram Modernization design that is most expensive and keeps the Tram out of service the longest time. Can the current Board do so even if they want to or are they bound by earlier decision?

Below is a memo from RIOC President Steve Shane together with supplementary material from RIOC consultants. Parametrix, LiRo Engineers and Professor Rene B. Testa in support of the RIOC Authorization Resolution.

Roosevelt Island Tram Modernization Recommendation and Supplemental Material
RIRA Common Council Member, and current candidate for RIRA President, Frank Farance has some questions that might be helpful to RIOC Board members in making a decision on whether to approve or not the designation of POMA to undertake the Tram Modernization Project. He writes to the RIOC Board and President:
There are still substantial questions that remain unanswered regarding the tram upgrade. Could you provide answers to the following questions? I've heard that the RIOC board will be revisiting the tabled issue in about a weeks. Some of my questions will require significant analysis and, possibly, follow up. Considering that some of the questions will require 3-4 days of review (e.g., raw data on maintenance incidents), could you provide this information as soon as possible so that we all have answers prior to next Thursday's RIOC Board meeting?

1. On October 4, 2007, Parametrix presented "Tramway Modernization Cost Benefit Analysis" that provided a matrix comparing the four options, including cost, uptime, lifetime, etc., which was used as a basis for RIOC's choice of the dual tram approach a year ago. I and two RIOC Board members (Shinozaki and Ponton) have pointed to the flaws in that spreadsheet, including the numbers and the comparison methods (not an apples to apples comparison). At a meeting several weeks ago, we (Mike, Vik, Prof. Testa, myself) all acknowledged the flaws with those numbers. Has Parametrix provided any update to that spreadsheet?

2. What is the raw data and the analytic methods that Parametrix used to provide its calculation of uptime in its presentation to the RIOC Board a year ago in recommending among the four options. I need the data for the current tram, the data for option #2 (replace tram system, as is), and the data for option #4 (dual tram system). This request was made several weeks ago, but I still have not received the data.

3. What is the raw data and incident classification system (e.g., trivial, minor, major, severe, whatever) for the current tram system and for the POMA systems, including raw data for calculating mean time before failure (MTBF) and mean time to repair (MTTR). At a meeting several weeks ago, Mike told us that these numbers rationalize 44 hours of MTBF for the present tram, and that was the basis for the RFP. This request for data was made several weeks ago, but I still have not received the data. Considering that POMA is "ISO 9000" certified, it should take less than 24 hours to provide this data for POMA's systems. Regarding the data for the present tram's, I will accept figures/data in whatever raw form is available.

4. If the MTBF for the present tram was 44 hours and the industry average, according to Mike (several weeks ago), was approximately 80 hours, then why did RIOC use a lower reliability factor than the industry average? Note: Please do not respond with "it's the uptime that only counts" because, as agreed by Mike, Vik, and Prof. Testa, that "uptime" isn't the only point of analysis and it can me misleading -- causing one to have a perception there is more uptime that there actually is.

5. What is the cost of ownership for the proposed tram? Please present this in a form that an accountant could understand, and please provide the details that an engineer could understand. This information was requested several weeks ago, you promised this by close of business Friday two weeks ago, and the information has still not arrived.

6. The Chair of the RIOC Board stated about a month ago that the RIOC Board could not change its vote on a prior decision. Could you identify which laws, statutes, regulation, etc. prohibit the RIOC Board from changing its position on a decision?

7. If the RIOC Board were to change its vote from being in favor of option #4 (dual tram system) to option #2 (replace the current tram), what monies would be lost? Please identify the type of cost and amount.

8. If the RIOC Board were to change its vote from being in favor of option #4 (approximately $25M) to being in favor of option #2 (approximately $15M), which would save money for Roosevelt Island (saving approximately $10M minus the costs in question #x), what restrictions, if any, would there be in using the monies saved? If there are any restrictions, please cite the nature and origin of the restriction?

9. Considering that RIOC, in this context, is a transportation operator, what training has been provided to the RIOC Board and to RIOC staff regarding the governance aspects (not just the technical or operational aspects) of decision-making for the RIOC Board? Provide a list of training classes on governance aspects of transportation operators, who attended, and who taught the class.

10. Considering that, as a transportation operator, safety is an important issue, what training has been provided to the RIOC Board and to RIOC staff regarding the governance aspects of safety for the RIOC Board? In a teleconference that included Director Michael Shinozaki, Mr. Shinozaki gave a clear understanding of how safety is understood and how it interacts with decision-making. Unfortunately, both POMA and RIOC staff have a misguided understanding of safety and decision-making. Provide a list of training classes on governance aspects of safety, who attended, and who taught the class.

11. Last week, I recommended that you keep track of an Issues List because tracking the status of questions, issues, etc. is important to the methodology supporting (1) institutional knowledge, and (2) informing RIOC staff and the RIOC Board. Furthermore, having minutes of your meetings (not just board meetings) would help the goal of informing the board. It puzzles me that you still refuse to track and keep track of your issues -- how will you know you have answered/resolved all the questions/issues without something to check off? You said this is a function of the engineering consultants. I disagree: this is the normal function of executive management in any corporation. For example, there was a long discussion (via telecon) on safety and maintenance issues with Mike Shinozaki and the POMA representative, yet no one took notes of that discussion. Likewise, my requests "fell through the cracks" due to this same lack of basic corporate methodology. What purpose does is serve the corporation not to record and share information and insight? Will RIOC do appropriate recordkeeping to support its function as a transportation operator?

12. The questions about the track brake and safety have not been answered. The POMA representative chose to answer other questions, just as he was non-responsive to Mr. Shinozaki's questions (Mr. Shinozaki asked the same question about maintenance costs five time and the same POMA representative chose to avoid the question), and just as the same POMA representative was non-responsive to the questions from the Main Street WIRE's report. In particular, the POMA representative stated that the track brakes are less safe and that no one used them, yet I pointed out that ANSI B77.1:2006 permits track brakes. If track brakes were obsolete technology, then wouldn't be a standard option in the ANSI standard; and if track brakes were an inappropriate technology, as suggested by the POMA representative, then the ANSI standard would be certain to *prohibit* them (quite the opposite). In fact, the POMA representative's statements contradict the fact that the current tram uses its emergency track brakes on a regular basis during maintenance and testing operations. My question on the safety issue regarding the track brakes was never answered because the POMA representative questioned chose to shift the focus on why I wanted to understand this feature of the tram? For Mr. Shinozaki, the POMA representative asked if Mr. Shinozaki ever took a ski lift (only a single rope) and, thus concluded that Mr. Shinozaki's questions on safety did not have any merit (nor any answer) because Mr. Shinozaki had once ridden a ski lift, which has fewer safety features than the tram. I recommend that RIOC insist that POMA take the questions seriously and that POMA answer the questions. In addition, I have several questions about the emergency rescue system, which still remain unanswered.

13. There seems to be ongoing confusion about code vs. standards in the engineering process. Both POMA and Parametrix incorrectly referred to the ANSI standard as code (involuntary compliance), which it is not. This ANSI standard is *voluntary* compliance and, as such, is a *low bar* of requirements. We've heard from POMA and Doppelmayr about other systems that have higher requirements. Why didn't Parametrix include these additional safety requirements in the RFP? What are we missing that other safety systems include?

14. Considering the lack of institutional knowledge within RIOC and the continuing lack of recording such knowledge, will RIOC management (Shane, Fernandez, Turcic) remain employed at RIOC in their present positions during the installation of the tram? Are there any planned departures or retirements?

15. Considering that the permitting process for option #4 (but none of the other options) requires shedding and closures along the FDR, York Avenue, the Queensboro Bridge plaza, Second Avenue, and 60 Street, why is there little information on how these significant logistical details will be accomplished? Presumably, these are the kinds of details that could greatly delay the project, including overruns, which are *RIOC's* responsibility, not POMA (as reported by Vik from LIRO). Considering that the DOT's Roosevelt Island Bridge rehabilitation project's traffic permitting has not yet arrived -- a year still pending a DOT study that involved only one intersection (36 Ave and Vernon Blvd) and a minor traffic pattern change (prohibiting left turns for northbound Vernon Blvd traffic) -- what assurance does RIOC have that the complex traffic study and permit process will be completed in less the six months?

16. Considering that the tram upgrade will be the largest project ever undertaken directly by RIOC, involving $25 million, major transportation and safety issues, and significant engineering complexity, why did RIOC schedule only three weeks between receipt of bids, involving thousands of pages of documentation, and a board meeting to approve the project? Why did board members have less than 24 hours to review the documentation?

17. According to some RIOC Board members, RIOC has not been properly accounting for its one-time payments on ground leases (net present value vs. annual payments for 68 years). I've heard that we have spent 43 years' worth of payments in the past five years. Have the present board members reviewed the budget, accounting, and payments so that we have the confidence that we can build any tram upgrades and *maintain* the tram for the next 30 years? What happens if the remaining 25-ish years' of funding are spent sooner than 25 years?

18. Considering that the Governor announced today that the State budget will suffer a $47 billion deficit and that both State and City spending will certainly diminish for many years, why should Roosevelt Island spend $25 million on a tram upgrade (with all its logistic, safety, and operational concerns), when it can get a new tram for $15 million and save the $10 million for worthy Roosevelt Island projects (parks, extra Red Buses, Public Purpose Funds, events, etc.)? Why good is having a luxurious air-conditioned dual tram system yet no money for playgrounds, Island organizations, street repair, youth activities, and basic community necessities?
Below is the Parametrix Cost Benefit data and analysis for the 4 Tram Modernization alternatives.
Tram Cost-Benefit Data

Tram CB Analysis Tech Report
The web cast of 10/23 RIOC Board of Directors meeting is here.


Anonymous said...

The caption to this post should read: "Questions Still Need To Be Answered!"

There are 18 excellent and unanswered questions in the post.

Thank you for raising these important issues and for exposing the lack of transparency in the proposed Tram Modernization Project.


Thanks for the suggestion. I made the change.