It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that on-time subway performance did not improve, but in fact worsened, in 2014. And yet, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office has taken the time to conduct an audit, putting to paper what we already know deep down in our weary, sweaty souls.
According to DiNapoli, on-time performance decreased from 84% to 72% on weekdays, and from 90% to 81% on weekends, between January 2013 and December 2014. According to the MTA, a train is “on time” if it reaches the end of the line within five minutes of its scheduled arrival time.
The audit chalks up more than 63% percent of these delays (440,800 system-wide between March 2013 and March 2014) to "preventable" issues like track work, overcrowding, and breakdowns, according to the Post.
In response, the MTA is arguing (with increasingly-diminishing patience) that the five minute window is a misleading measure of overall subway performance, since trains are frequently held in the station on purpose to prevent a pileup of back-to-back trains with extra-long wait times in between. This, they argue, ultimately reduces the amount of time commuters spend inching towards the grave on platforms, as well as overcrowding.
"We disagree strongly with many of the audit's conclusions, beginning with its emphasis on on-time performance," said MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg in a statement. "As we have explained many times, the best way to serve subway customers is to ensure even wait times between trains. Improving wait assessment may have a negative effect on on-time performance, but it is the right thing to do for our customers."
DiNapoli's findings also suggest that on-time performance and straphanger misery are not inversely proportional—a breakdown by subway line shows that the L train actually had the strongest on-time performance system-wide: a whopping 94%. The innocuous 4 train, meanwhile, arrived to its final destination within five minutes of its scheduled arrival the least—only 49.2% of the time.
"I've never had a delay on the 4 train," Cecilia Ehresman of Williamsburg told AM New York. "If anything, I would've guessed that the opposite of what the report said was true."
DiNapoli's other primary gripe was a (perhaps realistic?) lowering of expectations on the MTA's part. According to the audit, the MTA lowered its on-time performance goal from 92% to 75% this March (we're now the only major city in the country with an on-time public transit performance expectation below 90%).
In its 12-page denunciation of the audit, the MTA said that the old performance goal was "unrealistic," and that the new expectation "is both challenging and achievable, especially given the more accurate delay data and recent changes in operating conditions." To that, we would add a persistent and haunting deficit.
In June, the MTA admitted that April 2015 had seen a 15.3% increase in weekday delays, and a 33.3% increase in weekend delays, over the previous April. At the time, Lisberg emphasized that these numbers preceded a "big push" to reduce delays with "shorter announcements, platform conductors, step-aside boxes, new staging of maintenance crews, and preventative maintenance."
He added that wait assessment, that measure of platform wait times that the MTA so much prefers as an assessment of its overall worth, had improved in the past year. Granted, that percentage improvement was a measly 0.1%.
Here's a nostalgic video from the MTA that attempts to explain how platform delays are being dealt with: