There was more excitement than usual for a subway-related announcement at the MTA board meeting on Monday. You might be excused for your surprise: The subway hasn’t exactly been coming up roses recently.
“Important,” “best-in-class,” and a “great leap forward,” are not phrases that tend to describe MTA efforts, though they were uttered in all seriousness by board members Monday morning.
They were descriptors for the agency’s new service metrics, to be released on a user-friendly dashboard Wednesday.
Why should we get so excited about new bookkeeping?
The thinking is that the old methods, particularly concerning delays, were based on outdated and not immensely useful metrics, like the time that a train reached its final destination or whether the intervals between trains were approximately as scheduled. The new methods focus on rider experience: how much longer riders wait on platforms or in delayed trains than should be expected.
MTA officials, gadflies and transit experts agree this is a better way to measure the way riders actually come into contact with the subway. In the old stat regime, some metrics were “pass-fail,” notes Zak Accuardi, senior program analyst at the nonprofit TransitCenter. If a train was later than a certain standard, it failed, but that wouldn’t account for how late the train was. A few minutes delayed is a lot different than 15.
For example, one new metric, Additional Train Time, marks how delayed your trip was: between 1 and 2 minutes on average during the one year period ending July 2017. The 2 train numbers were higher, and the L train’s were lower. That makes sense, MTA officials said Monday, given the advanced signaling technology on the L, which has not yet spread throughout the system.
Hopefully, the new stats will make it abundantly clear where riders are finding the most transit pain, which could then perhaps lead to more effective policies addressing that pain, better signaling included. For advanced transit systems in places like London or Singapore, Accuardi says these “concrete performance measures” are also the basis on which drivers or dispatchers can be evaluated.
Even newly vocal rider advocate Mayor Bill de Blasio appears cautiously optimistic about the new metrics. His spokesman Austin Finan writes in an email, “Performance metrics like these are basic expectations of mass transit riders across the globe. These improvements will give New York City riders more of the information and transparency they deserve.”
Will more numbers matter?
Such transparency was a key part of what MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota promised earlier this year as criticism of the system bubbled over.
The soon-to-be-live pretty graphics of on-time performance are a far cry from the dense charts now on the MTA’s website. Beneath the data, you might notice the Google tool to translate the information into a different language. You might be forgiven if you were hoping it would provide meaning, too.
The new data should be more readable, but most important will be the MTA’s follow-through. It’ll require new policies and funding to address the problems depicted nicely on the dashboard.
Regarding that dashboard, MTA officials including Vice Chairman Fernando Ferrer urged riders to give their feedback for further revisions.
See what you think on Wednesday. Do the new numbers confirm what you always knew about the A-C-E? Will you opt for a different route when you can? Do the stats adequately represent the lost productivity and mental energy you spend wrestling with the subway?
Or do you want additional new metrics: Number of sweat glands activated while waiting on your typically crowded platform. Percentage of privacy violated while packed into a full car. Count of angry outbursts at train doors closing just as you get within range. Likelihood that things will get smoother soon.
There’s plenty of data to collect if the MTA really wants to get granular.