Op-ed | A year of progress and comebacks in New York City Transit

Interim MTA New York City Transit President Craig Cipriano
Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

With the end of the year approaching, I’m looking back on the past 12 months in the transit system with pride. We started 2021 serving just 2.5 million riders a day combined on subways and buses, and we’re ending it with nearly twice as many daily customers and stronger service.

Recognizing the age-old adage that we are only as good as our last rush hour, I want to share the latest subway performance data. Trains are moving faster compared to 2019 thanks to speed increases at more than 700 locations systemwide, and our metrics of service delivery, customer journey time and on-time performance have all shown improvement for three consecutive months. 

This is especially remarkable considering the limited resources the NYC Transit team has had in recent months due to crew shortages.  To stop a downward trend in service, we came up with creative new strategies to help improve coverage and maximize utilization of our existing workforce. Had we not acted, service delivery would likely be in the low 80th percentile right now. Thankfully we did and service delivery surged instead to almost 93%, with the number of crew-related delays dropping by 38% from almost 17,000 three months ago to roughly 10,000 this month.

We expect those figures to continue to improve as we return to pre-pandemic staffing levels and hundreds of future operators and conductors in training right now finish their courses during the first half of 2022.

While we’ve got a handle on that issue, we are facing new challenges when it comes to external delays — slowdowns caused by unruly passengers, police actions needed to respond to crime and, especially incidents involving people on the tracks. That last category is tragic and dangerous, and I’m eager to work with our new police commissioner and the incoming Adams administration to help turn the tide.

When it comes to buses, we’ve had a great working relationship with the City this year. Together with our partners at the NYC Department of Transportation, we celebrated the opening of four new bus-only corridors in 2021 with plans for more in the year ahead. Well-enforced bus priority is key to improving service. Beyond new busways, that means adding more cameras to keep private cars and trucks out of dedicated bus lanes and implementing transit signal priority wherever we can. There’s more to come soon, and we can’t wait.

As for Paratransit, we recognize the challenges returning traffic has caused coupled with driver demand not keeping up with supply. However, we’re optimistic for better results in 2022 after some recent positive developments as we work more closely with our vendors to incentivize more drivers to take available jobs. 

None of this would be possible without the hard work and perseverance of the New York City Transit team. They have worked with discipline and determination and I am continually impressed and inspired by their willingness and ability to meet every challenge. Their hard work is for you, our customers, and we look forward to welcoming more of you back in 2022.

Let’s make 2022 the Year of Transit for all of us, for the region’s economy, and for a planet suffering the effects of climate change.

Craig Cipriano is acting MTA New York City Transit president.