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PCAC Releases New Data Visualization Report


Ellyn Shannon     (212) 878-7424
William Henderson  (212) 878-7087

In its most recent report, The MTA in the Age of Big Data: Transforming the Wealth of MTA Data into Accessible, Meaningful, Visual, Interactive Information, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC) examines the MTA’s current data issues by looking at the need for new technologies and the value new data visualization tools can bring to the MTA’s ability to better communicate its performance to stakeholders.

The PCAC is confident that by providing the right visual tools, the MTA can make its data more transparent and easier to understand. Visualizing performance data using interactive, multi-year trend lines, will enable internal and external MTA stakeholders to gain a greater understanding of where the MTA has made progress, where problems have occurred, and where further investments need to be made in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our regional transportation system. (or to quickly understand where the MTA has excelled, where it has done poorly, and where it needs to invest further to improve the regional transportation system.)

This report continues the themes raised in PCAC’s 2011 Report, Minutes Matter, in which the Committee praised the MTA and its Operating Agencies for providing some of the most transparent and detailed operational metrics among U.S. transit agencies, information which is readily available on the MTA website. However, the 2011 report also noted that despite this high level of disclosure, the MTA’s operational metrics were often omitted in discussions of capital investments and the impact those investments would have on reducing slow, delayed, and canceled trains.

MTA monthly committee books rely on monthly and year-to-date information, which do not offer decision makers enough contexts to understand where the Authority is in the long term. In order to demonstrate how valuable visualization tools would be to both internal and external stakeholders, PCAC staff created their own interactive data visualization for three years of New York City Transit Data from those committee books. The visualization creates trend lines from the data so a viewer can readily compare metrics over time.

The report culminates in a recommendation to create a working group to develop three pilot projects. Through these projects the working group would create additional interactive data visualizations of performance metrics, incorporate those visualizations into board reports in a tablet format, and create a Transparency app where external stakeholders can easily refer to MTA transparency information like financial, capital, and operational data.

The report also recommends that the MTA should continue to foster investment in new technology in order to enhance its ability to refine and improve both performance and performance measures. The MTA should continue to push for the implementation of Automated Train Supervision (ATS) throughout the subway system, Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) on buses, contactless fare payment on subways, buses and railroads, and utilize web media to provide searchable databases of performance metrics, particularly regarding delay information.

Early last week PCAC staff and Board members met with Interim Executive Director Tom Prendergast. The PCAC demonstrated their prototype data visualization and asked for the formation of a working group to move forward on the report’s recommendations and the three pilot projects. The request was met with support, with Mr. Prendergast agreeing to the formation of a working group that could address the governance and implementation needs of the recommendations and move projects forward.

Printed copies of the full report are available upon request from the PCAC office at 347 Madison Avenue, 8th Floor.  The report is also available on the website at under PCAC research reports or can be downloaded here.