Subway Was Delayed Almost 500,000 Times Last Year

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The New York State Comptroller released a detailed audit on the subway’s "on-time performance" that basically confirms what you’ve learned from your experience on a random weekday: Delays are up, and they’ve gotten worse.

The subway’s "on-time performance" — a train is "on-time" if it reaches the end station within 5 minutes of its scheduled time — averaged 74 percent on weekdays last year, down from a little more than 80 percent in 2013. Overall, the subways recorded nearly 500,000 delays.

This audit covers March 2013 to the end of January 2015, so it does not account for the dark days of this winter and spring. The 4 train is the worst, according to data from March 2013 through March 2014, with more than 50,000 weekday delays and an on-time performance of less than 50 percent. The rest of the overcrowded Lexington Avenue line also fared poorly, and the 2 train only notched an on-time rate of 51 percent. Not including the shuttles, the L train was the surprise winner; the train got to its last stop punctually more than 93 percent of the time. The J/Z took second (92 percent), with the C train taking the bronze (89 percent) in what some would consider an upset.

One of the audit’s biggest complaints, which incidentally may be shared by commuters, is that the transit system doesn’t have formal methods to tackle the underlying causes of delays. For all its talk about "addressing delays," the MTA lacks a comprehensive plan to do so. NYC Transit — in charge of the subways, but not the commuter rails — fired back against these assertions in a memo that rejected some of the audit’s findings, including submitting a PowerPoint presentation as evidence. The auditors shot down the MTA’s defense with about as serious a burn as one can find in a government report: "It is not unreasonable to expect that the MTA would have more to show for its ‘full analysis’ and planning efforts than a 17-slide Power Point that was done after the audit’s field work was completed." 

The MTA also took issue with the comptroller’s reliance on the "on-time" measure to assess subway performance. "We disagree strongly with many of the audit’s conclusions, beginning with its emphasis on on-time performance," an MTA spokesman told Gothamist. "As we have explained many times, the best way to serve subway customers is to ensure even wait times between trains."

Finally, the auditors called out the MTA for lowering its on-time performance goal from 92 percent to 75 percent, which the agency said it did “to set a target that is both challenging and achievable.” The auditors weren’t exactly buying this slacker move either, and replied that no other major city has an on-time goal below 90 percent. So welcome to New York, where you can apparently blame the subway for being late at least a quarter of the time.