New MBTA Performance Reports: Work In Progress

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This week, the MBTA began publishing new weekly performance reports which provide daily summaries of on-time performance for all subway lines (except the Green line), buses, and commuter rail lines. The reduction in quality compared to previous performance reports raises questions following terrible winter performance and the resulting diminished public confidence.

The MBTA used to publish monthly performance reports for all modes of transit including data on vehicle availability, distances traveled between breakdowns, on-time performance and more. The reports also included a summary page at the beginning describing ridership changes, and an addendum explaining the performance measures.

The new reports contain only on-time performance data.

Old OTP Report CR+Subway

(Examples of the previous scorecard layout for commuter rail and subway lines)

The last report in the old format was published in November 2014 and contained data from October, almost a year ago. Since then, the MBTA’s subway system experienced the worst and most difficult winter period in recent memory. While reports have been released since January regarding commuter rail performance, there has been no information available on subway or bus lines until now.

The new reports have some useful features, such as daily performance breakdowns and separated peak schedule and off-peak performance levels, but fall short of the transparency and accountability that commuters need to restore their faith in the system.

On-time performance is the only performance metric reported, and without definitions of appropriate service levels (as seen in Keolis’ commuter rail on-time performance reports), these statistics don’t tell commuters how often to expect a train.

New OTP Report CR-Subway

(Example of the new on-time performance report format)

Old reports included schedule performance metrics to show how well service levels matched their schedules. The last report, using data from October 2014, shows that all subway lines and overall bus performance scored at least 98%. Why not continue to include this data to help assuage the public doubt?

There is also no detail on the extent of delays or their causes. If only 75% of trains are on-time, how late are the other trains? This is the sort of information that keeps commuters confident in a system’s reliability. Even if timeliness is a consistent problem, at least commuters armed with this information can plan accordingly, and public will for a solution can grow.

After almost a year of waiting, the MBTA has provided its riders with basic performance data. The long wait for data is questionable given that the MBTA has the information available internally and, at least for the commuter rail, has daily reports including length of delays and their causes readily on hand.

Following the path of least resistance would dictate that the MBTA simply publish the same reports they use. Instead, we receive weekly reports which skim the surface on performance data and leave commuters wanting more.

The T’s horrendous winter performance demands a proportional response to regain the public’s faith. Although it’s objectively good that some data is once again available, it’s difficult to applaud one step forward after seeing two steps back. Instead, the MBTA needs to surpass its previous reporting standards and improve the public’s access to information.

Shouldn’t commuter rail riders be able to see the performance of each scheduled train? If a line operates at 97% each week but the 8 a.m. train consistently runs late, then publishing this data would allow some commuters to opt for a different time with more reliable service, potentially helping the 8 a.m. train perform better as well.

Publishing new performance reports is a step in the right direction for the MBTA’s accountability, but much more is necessary for the agency to achieve the level of transparency its riders deserve. Let’s hope that they keep their word by enhancing the reports with truly valuable information.