- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Nearly 20 percent of Metro trains have arrived late this year, missing the transit agency’s goal of providing more reliable subway service, according to a quarterly report released Tuesday.

But Metro isn’t alone in failing to deliver passengers on time. New York City’s subway system — the nation’s largest — has seen about 32 percent of its trains arrive behind schedule this year.

The disappointing on-time performance statistics from the country’s two largest subway operations come as municipal and regional authorities encourage the use of rail travel to diminish road traffic and as ride-hailing outfits increasingly compete for transit passengers. For Metro, the new figures add to the longstanding challenges it is striving to address.

Between January and June, Metro trains arrived on time only 82.5 percent of the time. That’s a sharp decline from 2015, when trains were on time 87 percent of the time, and from 2014, when they were on schedule 91 percent of the time. Metro has set 91 percent as its target for on-time rail performance.

In the first six months of 2016, Silver Line trains fared the worst, arriving on time 76 percent of the time. In fact, only 56 percent of the Silver Line’s train were on time in June.

The Orange and Blue lines weren’t much better, with each seeing about 80 percent of trains arriving on time during the six-month period.

The most reliable trains were those on the Red, Green and Yellow lines. The Red Line ran on schedule 83 percent of the time. For the Green Line, about 86 percent of trains ran on time, while the Yellow Line saw nearly 93 percent of its trains sticking to schedule.

Metro, which carries about 260 million subway riders a year, has included for the first time a measurement of the percentage of passenger trips between individual stations that arrived on time. That data point measures the overall experience including wait times, riding a train and getting around a station.

With that measure, only 74 percent of rail customers arrived at stations on time systemwide. March and April saw on-time performance highs of 78 percent and 80 percent, respectively, but those statistics were the exception. January, February, May and June hovered around 70 percent of riders arriving on time.

April’s high number was due to limited track work during cherry blossom season, according to the report. Metro officials said the poor on-time performance came as a result of planned weekend, midday and evening track work as well as speed restrictions and arcing insulators.

SafeTrack, Metro’s yearlong repair plan, also kept the on-time numbers down in June, when about 71 percent of customers arrived on time. The report said that, without SafeTrack, that number would have rebounded to about 75 percent.

The statistics also reflect how riders feel about Metrorail reliability. Only 66 percent of customers said they were satisfied with the subway’s service. Metro has set a goal of 85 percent customer satisfaction.

Shoddy service has caused customers to feel like rail service is vastly unreliable, Metro says in the report.

“This inconsistent service delivery reflects the customer perception of reliability and the rail customer satisfaction rate of continued decline,” the report says.

“To address this, Metro continues implementation of track, power and railcar improvement plans,” it says. “Metro is addressing other drivers of customer satisfaction by improving rail station environments (signage, lighting and ceilings) and implementing same station entry/exit 15-minute grace periods to provide customers more autonomy in their transit decision-making.”

Schedules to keep

According to the latest statistics, subway performance isn’t any better in New York City.

There, the Metro Transportation Authority, which carries about 2.8 billion riders per year, has set a goal of 75 percent of trains arriving on time. MTA only measures weekday trips and factors in scheduled maintenance and delays. Only 68 percent of its trains were on time in June, when data were last collected.

MTA’s numbers have hovered around 68 percent to 70 percent for the last two years. In the first six months of 2015, about 70 percent of trains arrived on time. The system’s best month last year was January, when it achieved 72 percent of trains running on schedule. The lowest-performing month was February, with about 62 percent.

In 2016, over the same period, New York’s subway recorded a 68 percent average for trains arriving at their scheduled times. None of the first six months of this year have seen the system breach the 70 percent mark. The highest month was April, with 69 percent on time; June was the worst, with 67.5 percent.

Meanwhile, Boston’s subway system — the country’s fourth-largest, with about 174 million riders per year — is seeing better numbers than its counterparts in New York City and the District.

Boston’s system had been plagued by delays and customer service issues, so the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) started focusing on customer experiences in March.

Though MBTA doesn’t technically measure the percentage of trains that arrive on time, it does track the percentage of customers who “wait no longer than the scheduled time between trains.” It set a goal of 90 percent of its customers seeing trains coming on time. Though it hasn’t hit that mark, reliability is far higher than New York and the District.

MBTA data show that 84 percent of customers waited no longer than the scheduled time for subway trains to arrive during the first month daily numbers were collected. That figure rose to 86 percent in April, 87 percent in May and June. There is no readily available data for Boston’s subway reliability before March.

Still, the news for Metro isn’t all bad. The quarterly report, which is to be discussed Thursday at a Metro Board meeting, showed that rail fleet reliability is improving. The reliability of railcars in service reached its highest level in nearly two years. The target goal was about 65,000 miles between delays in usage for a railcar, and in the first six months of the year, Metro averaged about 82,000 miles.

“Mild weather in May contributed to better performance, and parts availability improved compared to last year,” the report said. “Strong reliability translated into good car availability, with the daily car requirement met each day in April and May.”

Metro was able to reach its target of 954 cars in service in April and May, when 44 new 7000-series cars were added to the fleet. However, that number dropped in June, the report said, due to new SafeTrack service patterns. But as the systemwide track work pushes on, Metro said it has a plan to combat that problem.

To improve performance, Metro has implemented a number of initiatives, improving repair quality through mechanic training, targeted campaigns to drive down the most frequent types of failure, streamlining parts planning and procurement, reducing repair times and balancing cars by yard,” the report said.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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