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New state budget requires LIRR to change on-time performance standards

Aiming to improve service, language in the budget states a train will be considered late if it arrives 2 minutes or more — not the current 5 minutes, 59 seconds — after its scheduled time.

Passengers wait at the Jamaica station platform on

Passengers wait at the Jamaica station platform on Monday afternoon. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

A new state law calls for the Long Island Rail Road to overhaul the way it measures on-time performance, including by considering a train late if it arrives just two minutes or more after its scheduled time — less than half the current threshold.

The provision in the newly adopted state budget also calls for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to report new performance metrics that are meant to more accurately capture commuters’ experiences, including the additional time riders spend onboard a train during delays, and riders’ total “journey time” — a measure that would include time spent waiting on line to buy tickets and exiting a crowded station.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said the changes in the state public authorities law aims to stop the LIRR from “putting out statistics that don’t bear any resemblance to reality.” Despite running late more often than any time since 1999, the LIRR last year reported an annual on-time performance of more than 90 percent.

“They kind of get the results they want by setting up the rules, and it just doesn’t comport with the results that riders see,” said Kaminsky, who believes the new metrics will create another incentive for the LIRR to improve its service. “They don’t want to be putting out a report with some dismal statistics.”

The LIRR, which has said it follows industry standards in how it measures on-time performance, only considers a train late if it arrives at its final destination more than 5 minutes and 59 seconds after its scheduled time. The system allows for a train to run several minutes late picking up riders at their stations, but still be considered on time if it makes it to its final stop less than six minutes late. It also doesn’t capture the full effect of delays that result in missed connections.

“We are analyzing the new statutory metrics, which would compliment the extraordinary range of data we already provide to our customers and the general public,” MTA spokesman Maxwell Young said Monday.

Twenty-year Islip commuter Beth Moose called the current system a “joke.”

“If you were late, every day, by 5 minutes and 59 seconds, wouldn’t you lose your job?” said Moose, who hopes the new law will result in “a more accurate accounting” of the railroad’s performance.

Under the new system, a train will only be considered on time “if it arrives at its destination early, on time, or no more than two minutes late, and has not skipped any planned stops,” according to the legislation. Kaminsky's office said changes will go into effect 180 days after the law is signed.

The railroad’s official watchdog group, the LIRR Commuter Council, also called the new metrics “a big step forward.” The council long has called for a new on-time performance metric that Epstein said “would better reflect … the riders’ experience, rather than the trains.”

“It will take time to see if that will be feasible, and we will be watching closely to see the results,” Epstein said.

Under the new system, all MTA agencies, including the LIRR, will have to report their on-time performance figures weekly — instead of monthly, as they do now. The MTA also will be required to issue an annual report comparing its performance to that of other transit agencies around the world using various metrics, including the total operating cost per mile and maintenance costs.

And the new law also calls for an independent forensic audit of the MTA to help uncover possible wasteful spending. Sen. James Gaughran (D-Huntington), who pushed for the audit, known as the Rail Act, said lawmakers negotiated the changes as a condition of their support for a congestion pricing plan that could generate billions of dollars in revenue for the LIRR.

“They appear to be a runaway authority. All they’re doing is looking for more and more revenue,” Gaughran said. “And so what we said is, ‘Halt.’ We’ve got to get a total fix on what they’re doing.”

NEW MTA REQUIREMENTS

According to the state budget that just passed in Albany, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority must keep new performance metrics, including:

  • Additional platform time: The average additional time customers spend onboard the train due to various service issues.
  • Customer journey time performance: The percentage of customer trips with an estimated total travel time within 2 minutes of the scheduled total travel time.
  • Excess journey time: Comparison of measured journey time compared to scheduled and standard journey times.
  • Journey time metric: The times of each component of a trip including access, egress, interchange, time in queue for tickets, time on platform and time on train. Journey time and its components may be based on a manual or an automatically generated sample.
  • Major incidents: Incidents that delay 20 or more trains.
  • Staff hours lost to accidents: Staff hours lost due to accidents or illegal activity per billion passenger journeys.
  • Standard journey time: The ideal journey time calculated by the MTA for a particular journey.
  • Terminal on-time performance: The percentage of trains arriving at their destination terminals as scheduled. A train may be counted as on-time if it arrives at its destination early, on time, or no more than 2 minutes late, and has not skipped any planned stops.

SOURCE: New York State Legislature

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