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MTA gave false reasons for 10,000 subway delays

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MTA gave false reasons for 10,000 subway delays that originally couldn’t be explained, data shows



Tuesday, March 27, 2018, 4:00 AM


The MTA has trouble making up time on the subways, but no problem making up numbers to explain its delays.

Internal documents the Daily News obtained show transit officials couldn’t figure out the cause for more than 10,000 of the subway system’s delays in January, so they sprinkled them into established late and canceled categories in their public operations reports.

During a March 9 closed-door meeting attended by a top transit executive, Tim Mulligan, officials presented January stats that showed 76,287 weekday delays, including 10,642 that had no known cause. Instead of creating a category for those unfathomable delays — which constituted a whopping 14% of holdups — transit management added them evenly to each of 14 categories.

That means, for example, more delays attributed to sick passengers, the weather and NYPD investigations.

In addition to skewing the very data the agency uses to analyze and improve service, papering over delay problems has helped cover up the fact that trains are moving slower, workers and staffers say.

The practice also flies in the face of NYC Transit President Andy Byford’s vow to get to the root of delays — a promise that had heartened transit advocates and riders desperate for improved service.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Jon Weinstein ignored questions from The News about why the ghost delays were counted in other categories.

Gov. Cuomo’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.

Delays caused by signal malfunctions and broken rails are easy to spot and categorize, but service interruptions from slow trains are harder to identify.

“If there’s an incident, of course the dispatchers are going to put that down. It’s easy,” said one transit official.

“What’s hard is when there is no incident, there is no cause. The dispatchers don’t really know.”

Dispatchers must give a reason when a train arrives at its last stop more than five minutes late or a trip is canceled. A 17-year dispatcher told The News he was stumped about the mystery delays and noted the Rail Control Center is responsible for writing reports for all late trains.

“They’re going to ask me ‘What’s the reason?’ They have to type a report,” the dispatcher said. “If I don’t assign a reason, they don’t know what to write a report for.”

Ellyn Shannon, associate director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, said transit staff should be upfront about delays from unknown causes that are difficult to track in a busy, overburdened subway system.

“Reporting them as ‘unaccounted for’ delays would be a more transparent way of reporting it,” she said. “Andy (Byford) keeps repeating — he wants to know the root causes. I think this goes along with that conversation.” Trains had an on-time rate of only 58.1% in January.

Train operators told The News that the ride has dramatically slowed because of the increase in repair work on the aging system, as well as signal changes made to meet safety standards. Byford, who started in January, tasked a team to get to the bottom of what is delaying trains, while reviewing signal modifications, along with union officials, to see if trains can be sped up safely.

The transit chief is also reviewing run times for trains so they’re more realistic for train operators and allow them to stay on schedule.

"Mr. Byford has called for a comprehensive review of train run times – not to pad them to meet targets, rather to ensure that they reflect reality, given the signal modifications and pending any changes that might be possible," Weinstein said. "While these are not quick fixes, they are on President Byford’s radar in his first 8 weeks on the job.”



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