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Signal delays snarled subway commutes nearly every day in 2018

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230 morning rush hour rides were marred by signal issues last year despite the MTA’s Subway Action Plan

Signal delays often snarled straphangers morning subway commutes in 2018, according to new analysis by the Riders Alliance.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It is more than a year since the MTA’s Subway Action Plan to fix the dilapidated subway system was enacted, but straphangers may not realize anything has changed. According to a new analysis by the Riders Alliance, weekday morning rush hour commutes were marred by signal problems 92 percent of the time in 2018.

Of the 251 morning rush hour rides in 2018, 230 were snarled by signal issues. January and February were the worst months with signal delays literally every single morning, according to the group’s analysis of MTA data.

“It turns out the subway is just as bad as everyone thought, and the reality is that we can’t fix these problems without a significant investment in new signals and other modernization,” Riders Alliance executive director John Raskin said Monday. “The subway is using technology from the 1930s, and until we replace it with a modern system, it’s going to continue to fail, with riders suffering the consequences.”

The F was the worst line, with 72 days of morning rush hour signal delays—which translates to more than a quarter of all morning commutes in 2018. Six subway lines saw more than 50 days with signal delays—a signal failed on one in five work days. Another ten lines suffered more than 30 days with signal woes.

In July 2017, then MTA chairman Joe Lhota unveiled the transit agency’s plan to address both immediate and long-term issues with the ailing subway system, which included creating a team dedicated to fixing 1,300 signals in dire need of maintenance by the end of 2018.

The short-term fixes cost $836 million to implement, which figured to $450 million in operating costs and $386 in capital investment. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ponied up half of the cost, and after months of staunch opposition, Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to cough up $418 million toward the plan.

NYC Transit president Andy Byford’s “Fast Forward” plan to overhaul the transit system would replace the failing signal system with new technology known as communication-based train control—a linchpin of the plan. But the plan is still in need of funding—as much as $30 billion worth.

Riders Alliance called on Cuomo and the state legislature to fund that plan by including congestion pricing, which is expected to generate about $1 billion per year, in the state budget, due on April 1.

“The bad news is the subway is deeply in crisis, but the good news is there’s a plan on the table to fix it and now we need the funding from Albany,” Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein said at the press conference. “We also want to see [congestion pricing] at a time when the governor is at the height of his negotiating ability in the legislature.”