Following a week of signal failures, power outages and police investigations that devolved morning rush hours into chaos across NYC, the MTA on Monday announced a "six point plan" to address chronic service delay issues.
"Increasing delays are simply unacceptable which is why we have to commit to addressing the immediate problems with all the tools at our disposal," said MTA's Interim Director Ronnie Hakim in a statement. "We are implementing long-term capital improvements. But we also need a comprehensive approach that focuses on reducing the system's failures while our capital investment is underway."
"We know riders are frustrated—we are too—which is why we are embracing this new plan," she added. "Attacking the five key causes of subway delays enables New York City Transit to take a targeted approach that can produce results."
The short-term plan will focus on the "key causes" of subway delays, according to a Monday press release, including track and signal issues; sick passengers and police activity; subway car equipment issues; subway boarding and exiting at stations; and "bottleneck" issues where train lines cross.
Phase one, starting "immediately" according to the MTA, will focus on the 8th Avenue corridor from 125th Street to Fulton Street in Manhattan (nineteen stations on the A, C and E lines) as well as 149th Street-Grand Concourse and 3rd Avenue-138th Street in the South Bronx. Improvements should take about six months.
At least fifty trains are delayed on 8th Avenue each month on average, according to the MTA, due to various "major incidents." Sick customer incidents alone occur 28 times per month on average, and last at least 12 minutes each. To address this in the short term, the MTA says it is hiring EMTs to post on-call at five key stations: 125th Street, Columbus Circle, 14th Street, West 4th Street, and Fulton Street.
To prevent car equipment breakdowns, which occur 25 times per month on 8th Avenue, the MTA is bringing on more inspectors to make sure each car gets looked over before leaving the rail yard. The MTA will also work to "regularly" replace doors, heating and air conditioning, among other components.
The MTA is also immediately dedicating two full-time trash vacuums to the 8th Avenue line in an effort to prevent track fires. A system-wide trash vacuum network is apparently in the works.
— Emma Whitford (@emma_a_whitford) May 12, 2017
The MTA's 2015-2019 Capital Plan includes hundreds of new subway cars, which the MTA is now planning to expedite. For example, the first of 300 new R179s are now scheduled to arrive this fall, according to the MTA. The delivery of 450 new R211 cars will also be accelerated, though details on timing are sparse.
In terms of track repairs, the MTA will immediately start testing tracks and signals twice a month on 8th Avenue, as opposed to once, eventually increasing testing throughout the system. There will also be larger emergency response teams when failures occur. "The MTA is focused on reducing average response time of its emergency crews to 15 minutes or less," the authority pledged Monday.
Crews will also install continuous rails at a faster pace (rails that make for a smoother ride and break less often), pledging to lay 3,000 feet by September. Expect more "platform controllers," too: those MTA workers in reflective vests who direct crowds boarding and exiting trains during rush hours.
A spokesman for the MTA did not immediately comment on how long the six-point plan has been in the works, or how it will be funded. We'll update accordingly.
During last week's rush hour meltdowns, transit advocates did their best to channel commuter rage towards Governor Andrew Cuomo, who holds the MTA's pursestrings.
“With this plan, the MTA is taking the right first step: acknowledging that riders are suffering and need immediate action to improve subway service," said Riders Alliance spokesman John Raskin in a statement Monday. “These short-term plans must also be matched with a long-term vision that acknowledges the scale of the problem and invests the billions of dollars we’ll need to restore reliable, quality service. Fixing the problem will require real funding for our subways and buses, as well as sustained attention from Governor Cuomo, who ultimately runs our transit system."
For the first time since 2011, the Governor this year cut $65 million in general fund contributions to the MTA—$244 million, down from about $310 million in years past. This particular pot of money is set aside for transit operations. While the $29.5 billion Capital Plan covers large infrastructure projects like the new Second Avenue Subway, new train cars and new signaling systems, the operations budget, an estimated $15 billion, covers MTA staff salaries and the maintenance of existing infrastructure.
Morris Peters, a budget spokesman for the Governor's Office, said earlier this year that the MTA is getting a net-total increase in state aid, thanks in part to increased tax revenue: $4.486 billion, up from $4.456 billion (an increase of $30 million). The Governor's Office did not immediately comment on the MTA's six point plan.
[Update 5/16]: Hakim told reporters on Monday evening that the six point plan is expected to cost $20 million on top of the current capital plan. She also said that the plan has been in the works for "several months," and is not a direct response to last week's meltdown.
Hakim also told Politico NY that the program is Governor Cuomo's idea. It "really started with a series of conversations with Governor Cuomo," she told the outlet.