Oh, how time flies. Remember the glory days of August 2007 when the MTA released the the first results from their rider report cards? Well, the agency is back at it again.
According to a sign I spotted in the 42nd St./Bryant Park subway station on Saturday morning, the MTA will be distributing Rider Report Cards some time this week. A few readers have told me that these signs are a few days old, but I’m pretty sure we’ll see a new batch of the cards hit the streets within the next few days. But is it too soon?
When NYC Transit President Howard Roberts unveiled the Rider Report Cards as a way of hearing from the people who use and rely on the New York City subways, he was taking a step few, if any, transit heads had taken before. He was putting the agency out there and asking people to be honest in their assessments of it. The results were less than stellar. The MTA pulled in a series of grades in the D and C range with only the 42nd St. shuttle managing a B-minus.
As a part of Roberts’ initiative, the MTA added service on the 7 and L lines and eventually launched a pilot line manager program along those two lines. Over time, transit watchers and experts expressed their doubts about both the line manager program and the rider report cards. Most of us believed the cards to be nothing more than a six-month publicity stunt that would, in the end, have little impact on an organization short on the funds needed to address the problems the riders identified.
And now here we are, a little past the one-year anniversary of the first results from the rider report cards with a new set in sight. Considering how little time has past and how it’s fairly clear that service has not improved, I have to wonder if the MTA should better direct its resources elsewhere. Over the last six months, we’ve heard a constant barrage of complaints about funding. The MTA doesn’t have enough money to meet its operational budget; it doesn’t have the funds it needs for its capital investment. Trains are more delayed than they have been in years; stations are in desperate need of an overhaul.
Yet, the MTA has the money to send out a bunch of rider report cards in the slim hope that some riders will rate the subways higher this year than they did ten months ago. Color me skeptical.
Instead, I would propose that Roberts hold on to last year’s results and use those findings to persuade the government to invest more heavily in New York City’s mass transit infrastructure. The subways aren’t in great shape right now from a physical and a monetary point of view. Yet, record-breaking numbers of people are flocking to the trains.
If the MTA can leverage these first results into more money and then run the report card program every five years to assess the next level of investment, they will have created a solid program of evaluation. Instead, as the new report cards are distributed this week, I’ll just sit back and wait for the news to sound awfully similar to what we heard last year. The subways are slow, crowded and, at times, unreliable. Riders want modern technology, cleaner stations, wait-time boards (a la the L train) and a seat. That’s all there is to it.