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What New York City Riders Deserve From Governor Cuomo's Subway Turnaround Plan

July 24, 2017

NEW YORK—By July 31, Governor Cuomo has ordered that MTA Chairman Lhota present a plan to stop the dramatic slide in subway performance, improve predictability and reliability, and restore New York City residents’ faith in their transit system.

Riders have every right to be frustrated. Over the last five years, subway delays have more than doubled, from around 28,000 per month in 2012 to more than 70,000 per month today. Only 63 percent of trains are now running “on-time,” a drop of more than 15 percent since 2012, meaning longer waits and less-reliable travel times.

The City looks forward to a comprehensive plan to improve the operations of the subways and address this emergency. As subway riders, here are a few of the items that New Yorkers deserve to see in a credible subway turnaround plan:

(1) Immediate relief for riders. The MTA needs to articulate and quickly implement changes that can improve service and reliability now. Long-term steps will also be essential in the future, but long-term promises will mean little if the MTA cannot demonstrate to riders it can manage its own affairs.

(2) Public performance goals and standards. The MTA should make clear what riders should expect from their system and frequently report actual performance against those standards. These should include simple operating measures – how long riders have wait for a train during rush hour, how many times a train is too crowded to get on – and some service standards – no train should fail to have air conditioning in the summer, no station should be unattended in case people need help, and riders should never be stuck in trains for more than a few minutes as a result of maintenance issues, especially without knowing what is happening. These goals and standards should be based on best-practice performance metrics from peer systems in cities around the world, like the London Underground’s “Excess Journey Time” and “Lost Customer Hours” measurements, and be reported on frequently and clearly.

(3) Clear accountability for continual improvement. The MTA should measure performance against these metrics by line and station for rush hour and non-rush hours, and, like CompStat, hold managers accountable for their performance. The MTA should be consistently pushing to improve reliability and expand service frequency.

(4) An efficient and fair MTA budget and a reallocation of resources towards core needs. The MTA should fund new measures first by accelerating the usage of available resources from every source of funds. If additional funds are needed, the MTA should re-allocate resources from less-critical investments, including funds being made available to it for lights on bridges, any primarily aesthetic portions of station enhancements, or bureaucratic staffing that does not impact customer service. And the MTA, which has among the highest operating and capital construction costs of any major transit agency in the world, should be rigorous in making its operations and capital project delivery as efficient and cost effective as possible before sending yet another bill to the hard-working taxpayers and riders of New York City. A fair plan would also involve ensuring New York City subway and bus riders get a larger share of resources already available to the MTA. New York City subways and busses carry 93 percent of all MTA riders, and there should be investments and operating support commensurate with this ridership.

(5) A meaningful State commitment to the needs of subway riders. The plan should return the more than $450 million of operating funds diverted from the MTA to the State general fund since 2011 and provide a clear accounting of how and when the additional $1 billion of State funds announced by the Governor will be available.

These are basic steps that are required of public agencies everywhere: set high standards, report on performance, use every available dollar wisely, and hold managers accountable. It's time for the MTA to level with its New York City riders. 

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