Comptroller: MTA misled riders for years about subway delay causes

NEW YORK -- The City Comptroller is alleging that for years the MTA deceived the public about the cause of subway delays— a claim the MTA is pushing back against.

”We were basically telling the public for many years the reason for subway delays was because of overcrowding when the real reason was a host of other issues,” Comptroller Scott Stringer said.

Stringer said from 2013-2018, when the MTA couldn’t find a reason for a delay more than a half million times, it simply assigned a random reason like “signal issues” or “congestion.”

The Comptroller’s report released Friday even contains an old MTA email and handwritten note that details the practice of assigning random delay reasons by percentage.

“We’re asking for an increase fare or money to fix the system, so the least the MTA can do is be honest with taxpayers and straphangers,” Stringer said.

Stringer said it appears like the MTA is not improperly categorizing anymore. However, he said it is still not being up front about delays caused by its own planned work— refusing to count those delays as “major incidents.”

The MTA strongly pushes back against Stringer’s report. A spokesman said the old ways of categorizing, which are not used anymore, were based on the subway system’s limitation— not deception. He said the recent signal upgrades are designed to improve tracking of trains and cause of delays.

The MTA statement reads:

“We appreciate the Comptroller’s focus on subway performance but this report is more history and politics than news, focusing on rejected practices of the past while glossing over recent reforms and NYC Transit’s aggressive pursuit of additional transparency and accountability.

“In 2017 NYC Transit instituted a new set of performance metrics based on global best practices, and as this report notes, one of President Byford’s first challenges to NYC Transit when he started last year was to more accurately and transparently report the root causes of delays – a challenge that has already manifested itself in the expansion of specific delay categories for better reporting. NYC Transit’s performance reporting is among the most transparent in the world, is only getting better with ongoing reforms, and what we really need is modern signaling system-wide that allows officials to see real-time diagnostics and the exact movements of trains at all times. This is why it’s vital that the legislature pass congestion pricing and our city and state partners provide additional sources of revenue to fund those critical upgrades.”

The spokesman also said the MTA does not hide its planned work delays, and that major incident reports are reserved for when something unexpected goes wrong.

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