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A bombshell report shows that the NYC subway is a delayed, overcrowded shitshow

Written by
Clayton Guse

The subway has been incredibly shitty this year. This much is clear. Delays are on the rise, equipment breakdowns are rampant and straphangers have lost thousands of hours of work as a result. Following a pair of calamities on May 8 and 9 that led to insufferable systemwide service disruptions, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams asked the city's Independent Budget Office (IBO) to look into exactly how much subway service has suffered this year. On Thursday, the office released a detailed report on the issue, and boy oh boy, is it a doozy.

The number of subway delays have skyrocketed over the last five years

The IBO report looked into the MTA's trove of on-time performance data to determine just how bad subway service has gotten this year, and it isn't pretty. In January 2012, the MTA reported 22,240 weekday delays on the system. In May 2017, that figure more than tripled to 67,452. What's even more jarring is the number of delays in May that resulted from overcrowding. That figure ballooned from 4,222 on weekdays in January 2012 to 26,990 in May (an increase of roughly 539 percent), despite ridership increasing by only 8.5 percent during that period.

The 4, 5 and 6 lines are a complete mess

A given subway train meets the MTA's standards for on-time performance if it arrives at a station less than 25 percent after its scheduled time. So, for example, if a train is scheduled to arrive every four minutes during the morning rush, it would still meet the standard if it arrived every five minutes. Across the entire system, an average of 77.9 percent of trains met that mark between January 2015 and May 2017—but the data varies wildly by train line. The 5 and 6 lines are far and away the least reliable (by this metric), having met the standard only 66 and 66.8 percent of the time, respectively. The 4 isn't far ahead, with a rate of 70.2 percent. The IBO says that one root cause of this issue is the fact that 4 and 5 trains share tracks in Manhattan. 

The most reliable trains, according to the IBO study, are the G, D and Q. Those lines met the MTA's standard 82.5, 80.1 and 79.4 percent of the time, respectively. That's far from perfect, but it's the best we've got. 

The increase in delays cost New Yorkers a lot of money

During May, the IBO estimates that subway delays cost straphangers an average of 34,900 hours during a typical weekday. That's up from an average of 24,023 in 2012. The cost of that time, the office reckons, is $1.23 million daily or $307 million annually. Granted, New York City's annual gross domestic product is $910 billion, so the monetary cost of subway delays is a small drop in a huge bucket. The IBO notes that the cost of delays doesn't really affect workplaces with flexible schedules, but they do cut into commuters’ free time. 

The findings of the IBO's report come as no surprise to anyone who relies on the subway, but it does put some hard data behind the claims that service is unusually terrible. The MTA is currently implementing an $880 million plan to help curb delays, but for now it's better to operate under the assumption that the subway is going to suck for the foreseeable future. 

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