For the last four months, a broken escalator in Metro Rail's busiest station has produced all kinds of problems for subway commuters.
Now those problems may remain for another seven months, after bedlam broke out Monday at a Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority committee meeting over how to fix it.
When it was all over, the board was unable to field a quorum at its monthly meeting for the first time in anyone's memory; one commissioner charged another with deliberately skipping out to delay the process; and nobody in Metro Rail's University Station still can use one escalator.
The normally placid Surface Transportation Committee meeting in the authority's downtown headquarters devolved into a shouting match between Commissioners James J. Eagan and Adam W. Perry over the propriety of an emergency repair order for one of two mechanical stairways at University Station.
Eagan asked why the conveyance has remained unrepaired for four months, and why NFTA staff is now bypassing normal competitive bidding to award a $332,790 emergency rebuilding contract to DCB Elevator Co.
That prompted Eagan - who over the weekend ended his candidacy for the Erie County Democratic chairmanship - to declare he was "uncomfortable" with the arrangement, questioning why the repairs could not be put out to bid.
"If this has been down for four months, why give them a day and a half to respond to a 100-page document?" Eagan asked, questioning if DCB - which performs regular escalator maintenance in Metro Rail stations - didn't have an advantage after performing initial repair work.
"We might have been able to get more competitive bids . especially from Schindler," he said, mentioning a company that declined to bid because it said it was not given enough time.
But Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel said the repairs were considered emergency in nature and that three companies were invited to bid - including Schindler Elevator Corp. - despite the authority's legal ability to directly hire DCB.
"We did it because we thought it to be in the best interest of the authority," she said, adding the competitive bidding process would add three months to a process already scheduled to take four months.
In the meantime, Minkel said the disabled community has complained that the station elevator is now jammed with nondisabled commuters. And Engineering Director Michael Bykowski explained that the process has taken four months because of previous repair attempts followed by a decision to pursue a more complicated rebuild project.
Commissioner Mark D. Croce at first abstained from voting, citing business he conducts with other escalator companies. But when his abstention allowed the emergency contract to pass, 3-2, he asked to change his vote to "no."
Eagan then objected to submitting the measure to the full board of commissioners for a final vote, prompting a counter- objection from Perry - with whom he occasionally clashes.
"Every single meeting . I'm tired of it," Eagan shouted.
"I'm sick of you," Perry angrily responded.
But the full board meeting never materialized, since Eagan did not return for it, and the board was short of a quorum by one member.
Commissioner Eunice A. Lewin charged that Eagan left deliberately to prevent any action on the escalator.
"He was angry and he left," she said. "This is going to hold this up again. What happens to our customers?
"We cannot hold our customers hostage," she added. "I have a real problem with that. We could have done it today."
Eagan denied that he deliberately sabotaged the full board meeting.
"They knew I was not going to stay," he said. "Just because there was not a quorum and I had to leave, it wasn't my fault."
He noted that other commissioners - whom the NFTA attempted to call in - also were absent and that he would have returned if summoned on his cellphone.
It is expected the authority will now attempt to schedule a special meeting to deal with the broken escalator.