"We have turned the corner on our worsening reliability," Sally Librera, Senior Vice President for New York City Transit, declared at Monday’s MTA board meeting. In her telling, the subway system has already "made a dramatic change."
Is that right? Well, if a few percentage points can be considered a dramatic improvement, then yes, I suppose the MTA is right.
For example, last year there were 72.4 major incidents a month (incidents that delayed 50 or more trains), on average. This year there are 69.5 per month, on average. But as the Daily News points out, these only account for 11 percent of delayed trains.
But overall delays are down, according to the MTA: There were 60,211 delayed trains this August, compared to 66,295 last August. But the MTA admitted it still isn’t quite sure what’s causing 40 percent of the delays it’s facing. Librera noted that about 25 percent of the delays are for less than two minutes.
We are more than a year into the Subway Action Plan—the emergency repair effort intended to pull the subway system out of a downward spiral—and the MTA is now rattling off its accomplishments since June 2017, i.e. what they’ve done since the city and state gave them $836 million to stop the pain:
- Sealed 2,000 leaks
- Cleared 340 miles of subway drains
- Cleared debris from 31,000 street grates
- Cleaned 285 miles of track
- 1,300 signal defects repaired
- Installed 100,000 friction pads
- 8,700 insulated joints cleared with the magic wands
- Welded Over 30 miles of continues rail
- Performed maintenance on over 1,600 cars
- Upgraded 800 doors
New York City Transit President Andy Byford has an internal program he’s dubbed “save seconds” that’s meant to get to the bottom of these small delays that have ripple effects, and he has made reducing 10,000 delays his goal. Once he hits that number, he said he’ll ask his managers to knock off another 10,000.
On time performance—how often trains get to the end of the line on schedule—went from an average of 63.7%, last year to 64.8% this year. The mean distance between failure—how often cars break down—was 122,334 miles this year, which is up from 117,414 miles this time last year (which is a good thing—we want subway cars to go farther before there's a failure).
Byford calls the Subway Action Plan a “living thing” which the MTA is adding to as it discovers more problems. Like how when you renovate an old house, and find a new problem every time you yank out a warped floorboard.
Recently the MTA discovered that 70 stations didn’t even have a public address system. Byford said they’re working on installing new ones at those stations.
Another problem: the three new 2nd Avenue Subway stations have installed 85 countdown clocks but they only display the time. Apparently, a server on 2nd Avenue has had a computer virus, which the agency said it’s working on repairing, possibly by the end of the month. (The MTA didn’t respond to requests for comment or more information about the malfunctioning countdown clocks.)
"People will notice that their journey is disrupted that much less often,” Byford said. “But if you stop at the as is, you're condemning New Yorkers to the status quo. It will never get really better unless we bite the bullet and do what's really needed; the technology change,” he said, referring to the Fast Forward plan to fully modernize the aging system.
And if it's not getting better, riders have a new face to address complaints to. Call it Subway Broken Windows, British style.
Byford is expanding the number of managers responsible for upkeep of subway stations, from four for the entire system to 23. This new managerial class known as Group Station Managers is modeled on the London Underground's system, and a job Byford himself once held in the 1990s.
Byford said these new managers will be able to quickly fix small problems, like removing pigeon poop from windows, and graffiti in stations, without going through the usual MTA bureaucracy.
"You don't turn up at an airport and expect it to be in a pig sty state, you expect it to look good and people should expect the same of New York City Transit," Byford said at a press conference Tuesday.
Each stations manager's name and email address will be posted in every station.
"We have to prove that we're a credible management team. We have to demonstrate relentless continuous improvement day by day," he said, adding that riders will notice "demonstrable improvements in information, cleanliness and all aspects of our station's service."
"It will get better, it is getting better," Byford promised at Monday's board meeting.
Let's all just keep repeating that in unison until it's so!