MTA keeps tight grip on information
The first thing I want to make clear is that Terry Owens, the new chief spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration, did not put me up too this. I asked some pointed questions and he gave honest answers. I hope that doesn't get him trouble.
What I asked Owens was simply whether he received a log each morning of incidents that occurred over the previous night. To me, it seems like a no-brainer to provide such information to the public affairs office as a matter of routine. But his answer was no. Logs of the previous day's performance are shared with "senior managers" but not the person in charge of answering questions from the media and the public. If somebody inquires about an overnight lapse in service, the public affairs officer has to go dig out the information from the operations managers.
My experience suggests that these worthies are often less than forthcoming when approached by MTA spokespeople.
This pattern of jealously guarding information is hardly unique to the MTA. It is a disease of many bureaucracies. But more than most agencies, the MTA is in the direct customer service business. Its every failing is almost immediately known to riders. Only the explanation remains in doubt.
What gets lost when the public affairs people aren't informed about what went wrong and why is the opportunity to take advantage of their expert judgment in crafting a response before an issue blows up in their faces.
There's a simple solution to this problem. Every morning the same log of the previous day's problems that MTA Administrator Ralign Wells and his chief deputies receive should find its way to Owens' desk. If the top public affairs person isn't treated as a senior manager, there's something seriously wrong with the MTA.
Or better yet, post those logs online so that everyone can get a look at them. What's to hide anyway? It's about time for some radical transparency at the MTA.