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MTA Alerts of Delay-Generating “Incidents” in the Subways Jumped 35% Between 2011 and 2013, Finds Straphangers Campaign
Alerts Are Sent in Real Time to Thousands of Subway Riders;
Warn of Incidents That Can Result in Serious Service Impacts
“Troubling Sign That Subway Service Is Deteriorating”
Says Transit Group, Pointing to Leap in Alerts
F Had Most Incidents in 2013; J/Z the Fewest
Leading Reason for Delay Incidents? Mechanical Problems
The NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign today released its third annual analysis of thousands of MTA “electronic alerts.” It showed that the number of alerts of delay-generating incidents had increased by 35% in two years – from 2,967 alerts in 2011 to 3,998 in 2013. (See Table One.)
The MTA issues alerts electronically in real time to more than 90,000 subway subscribers, warning these riders of incidents that result in significant service impacts. Transit officials wrote to us, saying: “Email alerts are issued for any incidents reported to [MTA] that will result in a significant service impact that is expected to last 8 to 10 minutes or more.” (See attachments.)
The group solely analyzed alerts of “controllable” delays deemed under MTA New York City Transit’s control. For example, all incidents of sick passengers and police activity were eliminated.
“The increase in alerts is a troubling sign that subway service is deteriorating,” said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, a transit riders group.
We compared alerts in 2013 to those in 2011 because 2012’s numbers were greatly affected by superstorm Sandy, which struck in October 2012.
The group’s findings for alerts of delay-generating incidents include, as shown in Tables One to Five:
The MTA does not report the duration of a delay, so it is not possible to determine how long it lasted or its severity.
The MTA deems an incident “significant” and instructs its personnel to send an alert to riders “for any incidents that will result in a significant service impact that is expected to last 8 to 10 minutes or more,” according to transit officials.
The Campaign analyzed thousands of real-time alerts the MTA sent to riders who subscribe to the agency’s “Email and Text Message Alert System.” The alerts are intended to provide up-to-the-minute information about whether a subway line is experiencing a significant delay-generating incident — and whether riders should consider taking an alternate route. 1
The Campaign used MTA alerts for 20 subway lines, but not any of the shuttles. The Straphangers Campaign also removed irrelevant data, leaving 5,957 alerts. (See methodology.)
The group then classified the electronic alert incidents into two categories.
The first was “controllable,” including such things as signal or mechanical problems. The second was “uncontrollable,” such as police activity or a sick passenger.
The Campaign concluded it was not fair to hold transit officials accountable for many of these uncontrollable incidents. As a result, the Campaign eliminated all 1,958 alerts of uncontrollable incidents, leaving a total of 3,998 alerts for controllable incidents.
“The MTA’s electronic alerts paint a picture of the problems that affect riders, but they also raise further questions,” said Cate Contino, the coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign. Contino said questions included:
The MTA launched its “Text Messaging and Email Alert System” in late November of 2008. The service is free. Riders can sign up to receive these alerts by going to http://www.mymtaalerts.com.
More than 104,755 individuals currently subscribe to the MTA’s alerts for subway and bus delays as of December 2013. More than 90,000 of these are subway users.
The Straphangers Campaign is posting the spreadsheet containing the data for alerts on our website in the hope that other researchers and application developers make good use of the data.
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1 Transit officials explained that while many significant incidents lead to sizeable delays, not all do. For example, some sick passenger incidents are lengthy, some are not. MTA alerts do not measure the duration of an incident. (See attachments.)
News Release | Methodology
Table One | Table Two | Table Three
Table Four-A and Four-B | Table Five-A and Five-B
Attachments from MTA | 2014 Analysis of MTA Electronic Alerts
Electronic Alert data from 2011 and 2013 (xls)