The MTA hid the extent of the subway crisis for years with phony statistics and misleading remarks so riders wouldn’t know just how bad the system was, a report from city Controller Scott Stringer says.
Stringer’s report — The Crisis Below — confirms multiple Daily News investigations into the way transit officials tried to fool the riding public about why their ride got so awful, leading up to the subway crisis in 2017, known as the “Summer of Hell.”
Stringer’s report hits the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for a “culture of obfuscation” and officials who were told internally that their public comments were inaccurate and meaningless.
“It is an insult to anyone who has ever been late to work or stranded at the station that MTA leadership passed along bogus delay data just to make the agency look good, even as its own staff were raising red flags,” Stringer said in a statement.
This obfuscation had taken place before the arrival of Andy Byford, who came to New York to lead NYC Transit in Jan. 2018, after running the Toronto Transit Commission.
Byford vowed to be up front with riders, like ending the practice of blaming bad rides on “overcrowding,” instead of divulging the “root cause” of the crowds.
The News uncovered in 2017 how transit officials blamed “overcrowding” for the subway’s woes, while refusing to run trains on time to the schedule.
Officials rebuffed analysts’ warnings that its low on-time performance was the reason for sloppy, unreliable commutes. Transit officials continued to run trains to boost its “wait assessment” — the measure of how long it took for the next train to arrive at a station.
Stringer’s report found that transit officials were told that improvements in riders’ wait times at stations were meaningless because of spotty data collection.
Meanwhile, transit officials at five public MTA board meetings in 2016 and 2017 pointed to improvements as proof the subway was getting better, when in fact it was on track to the “Summer of Hell.”
When data collection improved in early 2017, the numbers tanked. But instead of being upfront with the public, transit officials created new categories to measure subway performance “without disclosing that the newly available data contradicted the MTA’s many prior declarations that subway service had improved,” the report said.
The News exposed in March 2018, months after Byford joined NYC Transit, how transit officials hid more than 10,000 unexplained subway delays by spreading them across all the established categories for late trains, like bad weather or NYPD investigations.
Stringer’s report said transit officials perpetrated the ruse from February 2009 to April 2018, a month after The News’ expose.
The report said that 525,710 delays with unknown causes had been tucked into other delay categories.
MTA officials reject the notion that they were trying to mislead the public or make themselves look better, agency spokesman Shams Tarek said.
They place blame on technological and human limitations to find root causes of delays. Only a third of the subway system has an automatic signal system and computer train tracking that provides real-time diagnostics and precise location data.
“This report is more history and politics than news, focusing on rejected practices of the past while glossing over recent reforms and NYC Transit’s aggressive pursuit of additional transparency and accountability,” Tarek said.