The MTA posted its highest January on-time rate in seven years on Tuesday, prompting celebration from transit officials, even as the man widely credited with stabilizing the free-falling system prepares to exit the agency for good.
According to MTA officials, 83.3 percent of weekday trains arrived on time last month — the best performance for January since 2013. Weekday trains were delayed 30,318 times last month, a 28 percent reduction from the previous year. And rush hour trips were also faster on nearly every line in the system, according to the transit agency.
“Our operating statistics continue to show significant improvement, meaning customers’ trips are faster, more reliable, and less likely to be delayed,” said Sally Librera, NYC Transit's senior vice president for subways.
But transit experts cautioned MTA leadership against taking a premature victory lap, citing fears that recent progress could grind to a halt without NYC Transit President Andy Byford at the helm.
Byford, whose last day on the job is slated for this Friday, was not at Tuesday's press conference.
"By and large, we attribute the improvement in on-time performance to Byford's Save Safe Seconds campaign that helped speed up trains that were deliberately slowed down," Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director for the Riders Alliance, told Gothamist.
Returns on that project are, at this point, diminishing. The next challenge to improving subway reliability rests on the $7.1 billion overhaul of signal system, a project now included of the agency's 2020-2024 capital plan.
"It's better than it was two years ago, but the subway continues to be unreliable," said Pearlstein. "Signal problems delayed trains in four out of every five morning commutes."
Byford and his "signal guru" Pete Tomlin were previously meant to spearhead the massive project. It will now be handled by the agency's new capital construction and development division — a product of the Cuomo-led reorganization that reportedly contributed to Byford and Tomlin resigning.
Meanwhile, funding for the desperately-needed signal plan largely hinges on congestion pricing money, which was slated to begin in January of next year. Except now maybe not!
On Tuesday, Politico reported on the increasingly likely possibility that congestion pricing gets delayed, due to both inertia from the federal government and bureaucratic maneuvering in Albany. Questions about the potential delay were punted by Cuomo, the outlet reported, "to an MTA committee that has yet to be appointed, but that he will also effectively control. By law, that panel is not allowed to reveal what the tolls will be until November 15 of this year — after Election Day."
Things are equally bleak over in the operating budget, which faces a projected deficit of $976 million. By 2022, 19 percent of the agency's operating income — the money it needs to actually run the trains— will be going to debt-service payment.
According to Pearlstein, "there's a real worry about whether there will be service cuts given the huge gap the MTA is facing in its operating budget."
On second thought, maybe we just celebrate this January news and not think about what's coming?