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New York subway system’s on-time performance hits all-time low


    The No. 7 train pulls into a subway station in Queens on March 13.

NEW YORK >> Despite months of turnaround efforts, New York City’s subway system slid to a new low point in January, with just 58.1 percent of all weekday trains arriving at stations on time, according to a new report.

The increasing delays were largely the result of bad weather that damaged equipment and caused widespread problems, including 25 days of below-freezing temperatures, according to officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which presented the report at a committee meeting today.

Additional subway delays were caused by more people trespassing on the tracks, some of whom may have been homeless and seeking shelter from the cold, officials said. The continuing emergency repair work on the subway system also caused trains to slow down to go around work crews.

On 10 subway lines — the 2, 4, 5, 6, A, B, C, D, E and F — fewer than half of the trains arrived on time that month. The worst offender was the F, with just 32.2 percent of trains arriving on time; followed by the C, 34.7 percent; the 2, 37.3 percent; and the A, 38.1 percent.

Overall, the delays were worse than a year ago, when on-time arrival for weekday trains was 64.1 percent. In addition, on-time arrivals for weekend trains in January fell to 64.7 percent, from 74.2 percent the year before.

“I’m not happy about it, I’m not proud of it,” said Andy Byford, who took over in mid-January as president of New York City Transit, which runs the subway and public buses. But he added that, based on 29 years of working on and running transit systems, “You need to look at the long-term game.”

Byford pointed out that subway performance improved in February, though it has struggled again in March with back-to-back storms. Although on-time arrival statistics for February are not yet available, there were 56 major incidents that disrupted weekday service that month, compared with 105 incidents in January.

Byford also said he would review longtime safety regulations that restrict the speed of trains when they are approaching signals with timers, which some transit advocates have said may be unnecessary in some cases and slow down the system too much.

Even before the latest problems, the New York City subway system had one of the worst records for on-time performance among the nation’s cities, though it is by far the biggest system. For instance, in January, on-time performance was 85.7 percent for Washington’s Metro system, 95 percent for Chicago’s L-train system and 96.7 percent for Atlanta’s MARTA rail system.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the city’s subway system last year and has helped promote an $800 million emergency rescue plan. But the continuing delays and breakdowns have exasperated many riders. On Monday, actress Cynthia Nixon officially announced that she would challenge Cuomo to be the Democratic nominee in November’s election for governor, making the subway one of her priorities.

John Raskin, the executive director of the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group, said Cuomo had not made much progress in fixing the subways. “We’ve seen what the governor can do when he prioritizes an issue, and it’s time for the transit system to merit that intensity of focus,” Raskin said. “The subway system is at the breaking point, and honestly, subway riders are too.”

Raskin added that the governor and state lawmakers needed to pass a congestion plan for Manhattan, which would charge drivers for driving into Manhattan at peak traffic hours to help fund the subway system.

In January, there were 76,287 delayed weekday trains, up from 60,455 the year before, according to the new report. Of those, 27,249 were the result of overcrowding or insufficient capacity.

In addition, there were 18,931 delayed weekend trains, up from 14,182 the year before.

Blaming overcrowding for delays has become contentious after an investigation by The New York Times in December found that officials had been citing that to mask delays caused by breakdowns or signal problems that forced people onto fewer trains. Byford has acknowledged that overcrowding is not a meaningful measurement and that officials need to provide more specific information.

MTA officials said that January was particularly hard on the subway system because of a two-day snowstorm early in the month that blanketed the city, and extreme swings in temperature from cold to warm during the month that caused snow to melt faster and seep into equipment. Also, trains were stored on some express tracks instead of outside in yards to protect them from the cold, but that resulted in some delays in service while they were moved out of the way. In addition, a burst water pipe knocked out service to many trains at the subway station at Seventh Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan.

While there are other indicators of subway performance besides on-time arrivals, many advocates and others say that it remains an important measure because consistent delays can mean fewer trains and more crowding.

Still, Bill Henderson, executive director of a citizen’s advisory committee to the MTA, said that he was not overly concerned based on January’s performance alone. “One exceptional month would not necessarily trigger an alarm for me,” he said.

Several subway riders said they felt that train service was improving. Matt Albala, 29, a brokerage manager who takes the subway three or four times a day, said he had been delayed only once or twice in the past month. “That’s pretty good, I think,” he said. “Before, I would get delayed 5 or 10 minutes here and there, and that doesn’t happen much anymore.”

But many other subway riders said the subways were still making them late as they tried to get to work, go home or just get around the city.

Horace Medley, 34, a contractor from Canarsie, Brooklyn, said that in his experience, the 4 train is delayed by 15 to 20 minutes almost every day when he takes it going home. “It makes you upset,” he said. “They keep on raising the fare, and the service is not getting any better.”

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