PCAC releases new research report on performance measurements

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On February 2nd, 2011, PCAC issued its latest research report, Minutes Matter — A review of performance metrics at the MTA.  This investigation looks into the performance metrics presented by the operating agences and makes recommendations for improvement or adjustment with an eye to better capturing the impact on riders.

The genesis of this study arose from commuters expressing skepticism at some of the on-time metrics presented by the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).  The PCAC began investigating data used in the computations and it became clear that “trains” had impressive on-time percentages while the time delay that “riders” experienced from canceled trains was not being captured.  A three-month analysis of the LIRR delay data revealed that while a canceled train was counted as “late”, the added 20-30 minute delay to a rider, forced to wait for the next available train, was never captured.

In light of these initial “canceled train” findings, the PCAC decided that a more in-depth study on metrics was warranted.  It is hoped that this fuller report will lead to:

–Development of true passenger on-time performance (OTP) measures;

–Identification of the magnitude of passengers impacted by delays and canceled trains;

–Identification of passenger groups which experience the highest frequency of delays; and

–Linkage of capital investments to improvement in passenger service.

The PCAC came to the following conclusions:

The MTA and its Operating Agencies provide some of the most transparent and detailed operational metrics among U.S. transit agencies; and this information is readily available on the MTA website.  With respect to MNR and LIRR, no major commuter railroad comes close to their level of operational performance disclosure, especially with the recent addition of metrics on delayed and canceled trains in Board materials and on the website.  In addition, the NYCT is to be lauded for the improvement of its performance indicators over the last 15 years, particularly with the implementation and refinement of its Wait Assessment metric.

Yet, a true passenger based on-time metric still eludes the MTA and the other major U.S. transit agencies, except for BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, California).  The latter reaps the benefits from ticketing that requires an exit registration (swipe out) and a 20-year dedication to modeling passenger flows.  Further, the effect of terminated and canceled trains on the commuter railroads – the magnitude of riders that are affected by delays and the resulting economic impact of lost work time – has yet to be captured.

Finally, despite the high level of disclosure, the MTA’s operational metrics are often omitted in discussions of capital investments and the impact they will have on reducing slow, delayed and canceled trains.  The average rider doesn’t necessarily understand what new interlockings, switches and signals are, let alone appreciate how their improvement will enhance their commute.  Historically, the use of performance metrics at the MTA began as an effort to secure needed capital funds.  That linkage, as a tool to promote capital programs to the riding public and elected officials, has weakened over the years.

PCAC makes a number of recommendations but these are the primary points:

1) The MTA should continue to foster investment in operational and measurement technology, as new technology is providing the means to refine and improve both performance and performance measurement.

2) The MTA should add an increased level of detail in their Strategic Operation Plan (SOP) which is required by NYS Public Authorities Law, Section 1269-D in order to enhance the relationship of specific planned capital elements to the achievement of such service and performance standards for all operating services.

3)  The LIRR and MNR should strive to develop a true passenger-based OTP metric, for the AM Peak period to terminals, incorporating a canceled train delay factor.   If in-house resources are not available, outside academic researchers would be an excellent potential to tackle this analysis.  Click here for the full report.

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