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PCAC Statement – April 29, 2011 – Public Authorities Reform Act

Statement of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee

to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Before the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions on the Status of Metropolitan Transportation Authority Operations and Compliance with the Public Authorities Reform Act of 2009


Friday, April 29, 2011


Good morning, my name is William Henderson.  I am the Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA (PCAC).    The PCAC was established by the New York State Legislature as the umbrella organization for three legislatively-mandated Councils who represent the interests of riders of the Metro-North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road and New York City Transit system.  A representative from each Council also participates as a non-voting member on the MTA Board. The Councils were created by the New York State Legislature in 1981.

We appreciate the opportunity to testify on the MTA’s performance and compliance with the Public Authorities Reform Act of 2009.  We believe that the MTA has made a good faith effort to comply with this legislation, as indicated by the annual report that the MTA released this spring. This report together with additional data on operational performance found on the MTA’s website makes available to the public a great deal of information on the operations of NYC Transit and the MTA’s commuter railroads.  The scope of data provided is greater than that provided by other major transit operators across the nation, and the MTA is to be commended for this effort.  Still, we believe that the relevant question is whether the information provided by the MTA is the most effective set of tools for assessing transit service as it is provided to the riders.

In January of this year, the PCAC released its most recent research report “Minutes Matter,” which examines the potential for creating transit performance measures that reflect and can be used to improve the experience of riders. Along with our prepared statement, we have provided to you a copy of this report and will be happy to furnish additional copies to you.

Our study of performance measures that led to the “Minutes Matter” report arose out of public skepticism with on-time performance statistics.  When we took a closer look, we found that the MTA’s on-time performance figures were accurate measurements of the indicator as presently defined, but that the definition of this indicator does not necessarily describe the rider’s day to day experience.   We are convinced that in order for transit performance measures to be credible to the public and effective as a management and planning tool, they must be firmly related to the passenger’s experience and presented at a meaningful level of aggregation.

On time performance is a prime example of this disconnect between traditional performance measures and riders’ experience.  When riders hear the term on-time performance, they naturally assume that it is a measure of the proportion of trips where they will have a train arrive at their boarding station at the scheduled time and deliver them to their destination at the scheduled time.  In contrast, on time performance is in fact calculated based upon arrival time at a train’s terminal station and does not consider a train to be late unless it is at least six minutes behind schedule reaching that terminal station.  Even if a train is off schedule at a rider’s boarding station, it may not in the end be considered late, and a train arriving at its terminal 5 minutes and 59 seconds behind schedule is considered on time.

For subway riders, the on-time performance measure is often nearly meaningless, as schedules are largely irrelevant to riders except during periods with very little service.  New York City Transit has recognized this shortcoming and supplements its measures of on time performance with a statistic known as wait assessment, which analyzes the number of trains whose headways, or waiting times between trains, are no more than 125 percent of the scheduled waiting time.  Wait assessment has limitations, however, as it fails to reflect the true impact on riders of large gaps in service followed by a series of trains in quick succession.

On time performance also is calculated on the basis of late trains rather than late passengers.  A train with 1,200 passengers and a train with 120 passengers both count as one late train, even though heavily loaded rush hour trains are generally more likely to be late and impact more passengers.  Further, this measure fails to take into account the length of time that a train runs behind schedule.  A train that is 6 minutes behind schedule is counted the same as one that is 30 minutes behind schedule.  A train that is cancelled or terminated enroute, which may have substantial impacts on its riders, is also counted late in the same manner as these first two trains.

We believe that a passenger based on time performance measure would prove to be superior to the current on time performance indicator.  A passenger based indicator would look to the number of passengers delayed, rather than the number of trains delayed, in calculating a more meaningful measure of on time performance.  This measure would also incorporate the amount of time that riders are delayed by indicating the average number of minutes that a rider was delayed or specifying categories of delay, rather than failing to distinguish between a six minute delay and a one hour delay.  For subway riders, measures that consider riders’ average waiting time for the next train would better relate operational performance and the rider’s experience.  These measures should be presented at a level of aggregation that relates to the rider’s experience, such as line or branch and time of day.

Our point in making these recommendations is to make the MTA’s performance statistics a better planning and management tool.  This desire relates directly to the requirement of New York State Public Authorities Law (PAL) Section 1269-D, which requires the MTA to submit a Strategic Operation Plan (SOP) to the Governor.  This plan is intended in part to include an analysis of the relationship between specific MTA Capital Program elements and the achievement of service and performance goals.  We are strongly in favor of linking operational performance and capital investment, and by ensuring that the performance indicators used reflect the riders experience, we can most efficiently use limited funds to best meet the needs of those served by the MTA and its agencies.