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Subways Increasingly Running Late; Problem Is Worst During Morning Rush


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Subways Increasingly Running Late; Problem Is Worst During Morning Rush


New York Times

Published: November 24, 2007


[float=right]1124-met-webSUBWAY.jpg[/float]More and more subway trains have been running behind schedule this year, part of a trend that has seen the number of late trains increase every year since 2004, according to data compiled by New York City Transit.


The problem is at its worst during the morning rush, when an average of more than 8 percent of trains in recent months failed to meet the transit agency’s standard: reaching the end of the line within five minutes of the scheduled time.


Transit officials said that many delays were caused by track work and other construction projects aimed at rebuilding or modernizing the system. Other causes include signal and switching problems, trains held in a station for sick passengers, and riders’ holding the doors open, often during rush hour.


“We’re looking at, inside the total universe of delays, what is in there that we might be able to manage better,” Howard H. Roberts Jr., president of New York City Transit, said yesterday in an interview.


He said many delays resulted from track workers’ not finishing in time to clear tracks for the morning rush. He said he had begun to look for ways to keep that from happening.


Mr. Roberts said the problems were greatest on lines running at or near full capacity, so they have close to the maximum number of trains on the tracks during the rush. In those cases, delays can have a cascading effect as crowds pile up on platforms and trains farther down the line fall behind schedule.


He said one solution for some heavily used lines might be to reduce slightly the number of trains at the peak of the rush. If even a single train were taken off the schedule, he said, it might allow the remaining ones to operate more smoothly.


“You then have the capability to absorb delays without having a complete meltdown,” he said.


But Mr. Roberts also said that the trend toward increasing lateness is likely to continue until more of the system can be modernized.


Data from the transit agency showed that track work and other projects were responsible for an average of 2,235 train delays a month during the 12 months ended in September. That was by far the most common cause of delays; signal problems caused an average of 657 delays a month and riders’ holding doors open caused 518 trains to be late.


“I think riders definitely want to know that the system is being maintained and is not going to break down on them, and I think they’ll understand an occasional delay,” said Andrew Albert, a member of the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the transit agency. “But pervasive delays are another thing.”


On-time performance, a key measure of the timeliness of subway trains, rose steadily from 1994 to 2003, according to the agency’s data. But the performance measure began falling in 2004 and has continued to drop each year since then.


In 2003, 97.1 percent of weekday subway trains were within five minutes of the scheduled arrival times. The number dropped to 96.6 percent in 2004 and has continued to fall. During the 12 months ended Sept. 30, 93.2 percent of weekday trains were on time, suggesting that this year would continue the trend of increasing lateness.


Trains during the morning rush have fared even worse. In the same 12-month period, 91.9 percent of trains between 6 and 9 a.m. reached the end of the line within five minutes of schedule. That means that more than 8 percent were late.


A year earlier, the 12-month average for the morning rush showed that 93.5 percent were on time.


Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy group, said the on-time performance figures were misleading because trains often fall significantly behind schedule at the middle of their routes, especially in Midtown Manhattan, where crowds can be thickest. Then they can often make up lost time as they near the end of the line, where crowds tend to be sparser. As a result, a train that was well behind schedule where it affected the greatest number of riders could still arrive within the five-minute window.


“Those numbers were already puffery to begin with,” Mr. Russianoff said. “So, that they’re going down means that their own numbers, that are supposed to make them look good, don’t make them look good.”

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