New York City Transit’s Subway – Paying More to Wait Longer for the Subway


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New York Subway Route

Let’s dispense first with a few housekeeping details: The future Lady McCartney did her duty as a board member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by attending committee hearings on Monday. Some had wondered if she would show up. She did.

Now that we have that out of the way, here are other things that were learned at the monthly gathering of the committee that oversees New York City Transit’s subway operations.

You probably suspected this already, but train service isn’t what it was as recently as a year ago, conspicuously on the numbered lines that the transportation authority still quaintly lumps together as the IRT. (The initials stand for Interborough Rapid Transit, the private company that operated the city’s original subway line.)

The tricky part is how to gauge the service decline.

Subwaymeisters have long used a measurement known as on-time performance, or O.T.P. in transit-speak. This registers how long it takes a train to reach its terminus. If it arrives no more than five minutes behind schedule, it is deemed on time. (We won’t deal here with the metaphysical question of how being five minutes late equals being on time.)

In March 2010, 91.3 percent of all trains met that standard during the work week. This March, the figure dipped to 86.4 percent. On the IRT, the numbers really tumbled, to 81.4 percent from 90.5 percent. On the Nos. 2 and 3 lines, the percentages practically fell off the cliff, to the low 70s from the high 80s a year earlier.

Those statistics led to worried talk on the committee about “O.T.P. on the IRT.” It sounded almost like a sample of a song from “Hair.”

Ah, but is O.T.P. the best measurement?

Another metric has been spawned. It’s called wait assessment. This measures whether trains arrive in stations along their routes at more or less assigned intervals.

The argument for using it is that it focuses on what subway riders really care about: Can they expect to see a train before the next fiscal quarter? Not many New Yorkers lose sleep over a train’s being slow to reach its final destination; relatively few people ride to the end of the line.

By this measure, the subway managers looked a lot better (which may help explain why they like it). In March, 78.2 percent of all trains had met their targets over the previous 12 months, a figure barely changed from 2010. Even so, the IRT performed noticeably worse than other lines.

But no matter how you slice and dice the statistics, they point to an inescapable reality: Over all, roughly one train in five is not showing up as scheduled. And you’re paying more for the privilege of waiting longer and, once on the train, of being hit upon by the many panhandlers whom the mayor somehow manages not to see.

On the matter of the fare, too, the numbers are tricky. A transit committee report said that setting aside student discounts, the average transit fare in March was $1.64, 15 cents more than a year earlier. But, thanks to MetroCards, that was still well below the $2.25 basic fare.

If one measures the fare in constant dollars, the report said, New Yorkers actually pay less per ride than they did in 1996, a year before the MetroCard came into full use. The average fare 15 years ago was $1.38, it said. Today’s fare is equivalent to $1.11 in 1996 dollars — “a stunning statistic,” said the committee’s chairwoman, Doreen M. Frasca.

Still, many riders may have trouble thinking of themselves as better off. Take the popular 30-day MetroCard. It cost $63 when introduced in 1998. Now it is $104. “It’s a 65 percent inflation since 1998,” said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, a riders’ advocacy group. “That rivals Venezuela.”



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