MTA alerts of delay-causing incidents to subway riders increases

subway new york city platform
A report by the Straphangers Campaign found an increase in the number of MTA alerts notifying subway riders about delay-causing incidents.
Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

An increase in electronic alerts notifying subway riders about delay-causing incidents signals that service is worsening, a transit advocacy group said Tuesday.

The number of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority alerts, issued to more than 90,000 subway subscribers, increased 35 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to a report released by the Straphangers Campaign. 

“The increase in alerts is a troubling sign that subway service is deteriorating,” Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the group, said in a statement.

Email and text alerts are issued whenever incidents might significantly impact service, by 8 to 10 minutes or more, according to documents provided by the Straphangers Campaign.

Leaving out “uncontrollable” incidents like sick passengers or police activity, the group found that 3,998 alerts for “controllable” incidents on the system’s 20 subway lines were issued last year.

At 1,411 alerts, the leading cause of those incidents was mechanical, followed by signal, rack and switch problems. The F train had the most alerts issued in 2013, while the J and Z trains had the fewest, according to the report.

By comparison, there were 2,967 alerts issued to subway riders in 2011. Data from 2012 was not cited in the report because those numbers were significantly affected by Superstorm Sandy.

Despite the alert increases, MTA New York City Transit spokesman Kevin Ortiz said in a statement that the amount of time subway riders have waited for a train has remained the same since 2011.

Transit officials believe the alerts are a “powerful tool” to alert customers of any incidents impacting their commute, Ortiz said.

“However, the cause of such incidents can quickly change upon further investigation which is why the alerts were never meant to serve as a performance metric,” Ortiz said. “Our wait assessment metric, which includes BOTH controllable and non-controllable incidents and measures the amount of time customers have had to wait for a train, provides a more comprehensive picture of service quality.”

Delays are noted for multiple lines sharing track with one incident in the report. For instance, if a incident in Manhattan affects four trains, the report counts that incident four times.

Cate Contino, the coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign, wondered if there was a relationship between the number of significant incidents and whether a line shares its right-of-way.

“The MTA’s electronic alerts paint a picture of the problems that affect riders, but they also raise further questions,” Contino said in a statement.

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders


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