I’d like to say this question came to me totally in the spirit of public service, but, I mean, of course it didn’t. Of course I’ve spent the better part of the week trying to figure out this labyrinth (and the better part of Sunday afternoon sitting at a bar frantically jamming “HOW TO REPORT BAD BUS DRIVER MTA NYC?” into my phone) because this weekend, on the shuttle replacing the J train, I had what you could call a Very Bad Bus Driver. Maybe even The Very Worst Bus Driver.
The details here aren’t so important, other than the fact that I was right, he was crazily wrong, and it’s been surprisingly hard to figure out how to communicate this crucial truth to any human who works for the MTA. 311 directed me to 511, which in turn led me in circles, and the official number listed on the MTA website is disconnected entirely. And I can’t have been the first person to wonder about all this.
Turns out, I’m not! Back in 2008, City Room launched an investigation into the same issue, turning up a number of phone lines (again, disconnected, at least the numbers relevant to my particular complaint), the general MTA email form, and options for snail mail and walk-ins. None of it seems particularly promising, and if, say, you’re looking to fire off a strongly worded tirade, the general-sounding “submit a question to our support team” message on the email form is a little confusing and off-putting.
It is, however, actually the best option. Even an effective one! It’s what MTA press official Aaron Donovan recommended to me (alongside the full 511 menu), promising, “Every person who emails us through this method will receive a written response from the MTA explaining a solution as best we can.”
At least in my case, this turned out to be completely true. Less than a day after sending out the greatest, most strongly worded complaint of my short career, I got an email back from a real life MTA employee, reading, “With the information you provided, we will be able to identify this employee for questioning and the appropriate further action as warranted.” The most satisfying words I have ever read.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.