Jun
17

Daily News: Transit to stop blaming too many riders for delays

By

Over the past few years, as subway service reliability has declined, New York City Transit has been loathe to take responsibility for the various delays, slow speeds and assorted problems. Instead, they’ve taken to blaming riders, and in particular, the high number of them, for delays. This isn’t particularly satisfying or rider-friendly, and it’s also come across as disingenuous. Delays due to too many riders isn’t a cause; it’s a symptom — a symptom of a poor and unprepared management.

An MTA prepared for increasing ridership, and perhaps an MTA that had noticed trends in the late 1990s and early 2000s and anticipating increasing growth, would have built demand into the system. A modern signal system in place before the current one started to completely break down would have allowed the MTA to ramp up service as ridership increased, but instead, we have a system weighted down by numerous signal timers that limit both train speeds and system capacity, thus leading to overcrowding that can further slow down trains. As I said, it’s a symptom and not a cause.

Now, though, Andy Byford has a plan to stop this victim-blaming. As Dan Rivoli reports in The Daily News today, the new New York City Transit president would like to phase out blaming delays on “overcrowding” and identify instead the root cause of these delays. Rivoli reports:

NYC Transit President Andy Byford and his team are ditching the “overcrowding” category in an overhaul of how information on train delays is collected and reported. Officials will use the data to speed up slow trains and fix spotty service, cutting down on the number of late trains.

Byford, in an interview with the Daily News, called “overcrowding” a “misrepresentation” and “misnomer.” Now, with the MTA in a repair blitz to fix aging equipment that causes major commuting headaches, Byford plans to tackle the small holdups and slowdowns that make for a crummy ride. “They just find that the service is very patchy, it’s very gappy,” Byford said, speaking of commuters. “That’s very frustrating to them. Our trains per hour isn’t as high as the signaling system will permit.”

…MTA board members on Monday will see the new way that delays will be tracked and tallied, which is still a work in progress. The most significant change will be the ambiguous “overcrowding” category, which became the most commonly cited reason for late trains that effectively blamed the riders for suffering subway performance. A new “operating environment” category will now cover many of the overcrowding and unassigned mystery delays.

While seemingly vague sounding, these metrics will have teeth behind them. As Rivoli reports, “operating environment” delays will include delays due to signal timers, and the “right of way” delay category will be axed in favor of one that specifically identifies delays due to failed signals and associated repair work. Much of these changes were driven by Rivoli’s reporting earlier this year when he detailed how the MTA hid the true causes of delays in the “overcrowding” category, and some increased transparency is much welcome.

On the surface, this isn’t a move with a direct impact on most riders. New Yorkers don’t really care why their trains are delayed; they just want to know that fewer and fewer trains will be delayed in the future. That is, however, something the MTA hasn’t been able to promise of late. But this granular level of delay information gets Transit on the right track toward combating delays. It’s easy to ignore delays due to “overcrowding” if you think overcrowding is the root cause of the problem. It’s harder to ignore delays due to signal timers when you know signal timers are the cause of the delays, and it’s easier to combat these delays by identifying and eliminating those signal timers that aren’t absolutely necessary.

These are of course baby steps, but they’re the right baby steps that Byford has to force Transit to take so service can get better in the future. He’s still saying and doing the right things, and as long as he has political cover to act, slowly and surely, he can work the subways out of this crisis. It’s going to be a long ride though, but at least it’s not one delayed by you and me and the 5.6 million other subway riders every day.



30 Responses to “Daily News: Transit to stop blaming too many riders for delays”

  1. Stephen says:

    The Daily News missed the real story.

    The MTA released a new subway schedules to take effect on June 24th. The new schedule shows a 4.2% reduction in the number of weekday trips, starting on Monday, June 25th. Here are the raw numbers from 2014, the first year the MTA released such schedules.

    Date: 2014-06-23; Trip Count: 8230
    Date: 2015-06-22; Trip Count: 8024
    Date: 2016-06-27; Trip Count: 8120
    Date: 2017-06-26; Trip Count: 8626
    Date: 2018-06-18; Trip Count: 8630
    Date: 2018-06-25; Trip Count: 8265

    If there is interest, I’ll be happy to break down the service reductions by line and time of day.

    • I’ve heard a bit about this lately but haven’t seen a full breakdown. It’s not something they put in the board books, and it’s outrageous. Can you send me the breakdown?

      • Stephen Bauman says:

        It may not be as bad as it seems. They did not include the SIRT schedule in the schedules. (I’ve posted a notified them on the MTA Developers’ Forum.)

        The big hit appears to be the M – down more than 200 weekday trips. This bears further study. It could be the change from the M train outage back to the complete service. The MTA is not very good at keeping the GTFS schedule up to date.

        There’s a minor hit on Lexington Ave service. Possibly service adjustments due to the introduction of SAS service.

        Here are the weekday results in a form that you can cut and paste into the spreadsheet of your choice.

        “Route”,”2014-06-23″,”2015-06-22″,”2016-06-27″,”2017-06-26″,”2018-06-18″,”2018-06-25″
        “1”,452,452,458,464,464,462
        “2”,310,310,318,318,318,324
        “3”,306,306,306,306,306,306
        “4”,368,368,372,372,372,370
        “5”,325,325,329,329,329,309
        “6”,441,441,447,447,447,435
        “6X”,117,117,117,117,117,113
        “7”,517,517,520,534,534,534
        “7X”,101,101,102,104,104,104
        “A”,367,367,369,369,369,369
        “B”,206,206,206,206,206,206
        “C”,200,200,200,200,200,200
        “D”,268,268,266,266,266,266
        “E”,400,400,404,404,404,404
        “F”,382,382,382,382,382,382
        “FS”,236,236,236,236,236,236
        “G”,278,280,280,280,280,280
        “GS”,582,582,610,610,610,610
        “H”,168,168,168,168,168,168
        “J”,261,261,267,267,267,267
        “L”,494,500,514,546,546,546
        “M”,264,266,270,484,484,272
        “N”,266,266,268,267,267,269
        “Q”,268,268,268,315,318,321
        “R”,500,284,284,284,285,285
        “SI”,141,141,147,149,149,
        “Z”,12,12,12,12,12,12
        “Total”,8230,8024,8120,8436,8440,8050

        • eo says:

          The change in the M has something to do with the end of the reconstruction on the line. Maybe they counted trains running in separate segments individually? Or substituting buses? I have no idea, but if you have granular enough data you should be able to figure it out.

          Note that in your numbers R had a similar drop from 2014 to 2015 going from 500 to 284. I am not sure why that one occurred, but I am quite certain that the MTA did not cut the number of R trains in half at that time.

        • J Adlai says:

          It’s absolutely the change in M service eliminating the shuttle operation. Did the M see a massive service increase when the daily trips went up to 484 per day?

          The only thing that’s noteworthy is the reduction in 6 service, which was absolutely due to the opening of SAS (which has moved the peak load point of the Lex Line much further north), but still should have been announced publicly.

          • BruceNY says:

            If you add up trips on the Lexington Line (4, 5, and 6 combined) there is a decrease compared to four years ago, but it is more than offset by the increase in the Q Train, so overall a net increase for the U.E.S. with Second Avenue service.

            • Stephen Bauman says:

              The MTA’s metric for adequate service is that the trains on every line are equally crowded. This “proves” they are playing no favorites. You can bet they will be further reducing Lex service to fully compensate for those who have deserted it for the SAS.

              The result will be trains that are just as crowded as before, only $4.5B will have been spent to achieve parity with what we previously had.

              • J Adlai says:

                That’s really not true. Yes, MTA has guideline loading; a target level of crowding that they would like to see during rush hours. However, many lines remain below guideline load without a reduction in service. There are many factors that go into frequency, guideline loading is merely one of them.

                And yes, the Lexington Local was always going to see a reduction in service. Until there’s data released on ridership to calculate a metric to measure the level of reduced service versus the reduced level of ridership, it’s not fair to pass judgement on whether the reduction of service on the 6 was justified or not. For what it’s worth, the reduction in scheduled trips was a total of 16; which boils down to 8 round trips. That’s likely 4 total trips in the AM rush and 4 in the PM. Spread out over the rush, it was likely a reduction of 1 train per hour.

      • Stephen Bauman says:

        Here’s an amended route breakdown. I did not include routes that were not operating in 2014. The totals agree with what I initially posted.

        “Route”,”2014-06-23?,”2015-06-22?,”2016-06-27?,”2017-06-26?,”2018-06-18?,”2018-06-25?
        “1”,452,452,458,464,464,462
        “2”,310,310,318,318,318,324
        “3”,306,306,306,306,306,306
        “4”,368,368,372,372,372,370
        “5”,325,325,329,329,329,309
        “5X”,,,,,,20
        “6”,441,441,447,447,447,435
        “6X”,117,117,117,117,117,113
        “7”,517,517,520,534,534,534
        “7X”,101,101,102,104,104,104
        “A”,367,367,369,369,369,369
        “B”,206,206,206,206,206,206
        “C”,200,200,200,200,200,200
        “D”,268,268,266,266,266,266
        “E”,400,400,404,404,404,404
        “F”,382,382,382,382,382,382
        “FS”,236,236,236,236,236,236
        “G”,278,280,280,280,280,280
        “GS”,582,582,610,610,610,610
        “H”,168,168,168,168,168,168
        “J”,261,261,267,267,267,267
        “L”,494,500,514,546,546,546
        “M”,264,266,270,484,484,272
        “N”,266,266,268,267,267,269
        “Q”,268,268,268,315,318,321
        “R”,500,284,284,284,285,285
        “SI”,141,141,147,149,149,
        “W”,,,,190,190,195
        “Z”,12,12,12,12,12,12
        “Total”,8230,8024,8120,8626,8630,8265

        • Brooklynite says:

          The M had 484 trips during the reconstruction period because each run of the dinky shuttle, each way, counted as a trip. Same reason for the R having so many trips in 2014 – it was split into two. I suggest excluding these numbers, so the comparison is apples to apples.

        • David R Yale says:

          What are the “FS,” “GS,” and “H”?

          • Stephen Bauman says:

            FS is Franklin Shuttle
            GS is 42nd St Shuttle
            H is Rockaway Park Shuttle

            • sonicboy678 says:

              In that case, use S, 0, and H. Those are the respective internal designations for those shuttles.

              • Stephen Bauman says:

                Those are the respective internal designations for those shuttles.

                The “FS”,”GS”, and “H” route id designations came from the MTA’s GTFS schedules that are published on the MTA’s website. The MTA has many internal designations for the same thing. That’s one of the problems comparing the many different data sets that the MTA makes public.

  2. Kenneth Barr says:

    I disagree. Overcrowding is a valid reason to give for delays as it also can be interpreted as there being not enough trains on the line to carry the load. Therefore, I don’t see this as “blaming the customers” but a backhanded way of admitting that the service provided is lacking.

    • AMH says:

      The question, of course, is why there aren’t enough trains. Timers, signal failures, etc. have degraded capacity, causing delays, causing overcrowding, causing more delays, causing more crowding.

  3. SEAN says:

    The Daily News missed the real story. Of course they did – it’s a whole lot easier to blame a segment of the population than to get to the route cause of a problem such as cars hitting padestrians & jumping to conclusions that the pedestrian is at fault without knowing the facts. The same applies here with the passengers & not the conditions of the subway causing delays.

  4. t-bo says:

    So they won’t be able to blame the massive East Side upzoning which will add thousands to an un-expanded Lexington Ave service.

    • AMH says:

      There should be some sort of timeline linking that limits construction in each area until the SAS opens there. That could get developers to push their cronies to support faster completion of the line.

  5. AMH says:

    The MTA’s new dashboards are very revealing in this respect. Take a look at “Capacity Provided” — it’s below 90% on the Lex, indicating that there’s a 10% (minimum) relief valve just waiting to be tapped into.

    http://dashboard.mta.info/

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      Here is what people don’t get. There are a lot of capacity constraints, and removing one doesn’t help if there are others.

      Line signal capacity.

      Terminal capacity.

      Car availability and storage capacity.

      And, of course, financial capacity.

      • Kenneth Barr says:

        Don’t forget limitations due to the condition of the track bed.

      • Stephen Bauman says:

        Line signal capacity

        A frequent misconception among MTA personnel. A signal system ensures only that a safe braking distance is maintained between a leader and its follower. The factors that determine what that safe braking distance is what determines service level capacity – not the signal system.

        Terminal capacity.

        True for most cases. The Lex Local is an exception. A loop terminal’s capacity constraint is the same an intermediate station’s. There are many places for short turning and diverging routes on the uptown side.

        • sonicboy678 says:

          The problem is, safe braking distances are dynamic, whereas fixed blocks aren’t (hence the name). This is why the signal system is frequently brought up, and why there’s been a massive push for CBTC.

          • Stephen Bauman says:

            The problem is, safe braking distances are dynamic, whereas fixed blocks aren’t…

            Train operation should be periodic not random nor “dynamic”. If each train maintains the same speed profile and depart at a constant headway, T, then at any location along the route the location: speed, and braking distance of a leader and its follower will repeat every T seconds. This permits block lengths to be set to optimize service level capacity (maximum trains per hour). This was how NYCT’s block system was designed.

    • Stephen Bauman says:

      Smell a rat, when anyone provides only a percentage for a measurement. How many tph and on which lines does 100% represent.

  6. Billy G says:

    I loathe when people are loath to look up the proper spelling of a word or homophobe.

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