Data from MTA’S @NYCT twitter account documents 479 subway signal failures from December 2017 to February 2018, delaying an estimated 11 million riders. The MTA only reported 14% of them (66) to the public on their Performance Metrics Dashboard.

Signal Failures Tracked by MTA Dashboard v.

Signal failures are the #1 cause of subway delays. Experts agree that modernizing the signal system is the most significant investment the MTA could make, not only to reduce the number of delays, but also to increase rider capacity (since trains can run more closely together on lines with modern signals).

However, the MTA has not made replacing the signal system a high priority. The “Subway Action Plan” adopted last summer did not add meaningful new funding to modernize the signal system. According to the Citizens Budget Commission, the Cuomo Administration has actually decreased capital funding dedicated to signal modernization. At the current pace, the Regional Plan Association estimates that modernizing the signal system will take 50 years.

As reported in the New York Times, new analysis shows that the MTA is not only systematically under-investing in our signal system—the MTA is also systematically under-reporting signal failures to the public on its Subway Performance Metrics Dashboard, despite the MTA's promises for increased transparency and accountability. 

Using data from MTA’S @NYCT twitter account, this site documented 479 signal failure incidents over the past three months, delaying an estimated 11.1 million riders. That’s more than seven times the number of signal failures (66) reported by the MTA on their Subway Performance Metrics Dashboard for the same period. The dashboard reported fewer than 14% of all signal failures.

The Performance Metrics Dashboard was re-launched by the MTA in September 2017, at the direction of Chair Joe Lhota, to provide “customer-focused, detailed performance metrics across the subway system as part of New York City Transit’s Subway Action Plan to improve service and make communication more clear and transparent for the millions of customers who travel on the subways daily.”

Despite the promise of “detailed performance metrics,” and the widely-known fact that signal failures are the #1 cause of delays, the MTA’s dashboard only includes “major incidents,” which it defines as incidents that delay 50 or more trains. According to the MTA, there were 66 major signal failure incidents between December 2017 through February 2018.

There is no evidence of the remaining 413 signal failure incidents anywhere on the dashboard. Even for the 66 “major incidents,” the MTA’s Dashboard does not disclose when or where those signal failures occurred, which lines were affected, or how many riders were delayed by the incident.

A full list of signal failures over for this quarter obtained by via the @NYCT Twitter account is included below: 

Analysis of the 479 signal falures identifies where signal failures have been most likely to occur and which signal failures impact the most riders: 

  • 71 AV - CONTINENTAL AVE - FOREST HILLS saw the most frequent signal failures, with 10 signal failures over the course of just three months. Based on average daily ridership data from the MTA, these signal delays impacted about 272,194 riders.

  • With just five signal failures at TIMES SQUARE - 42 ST, 1.1 million riders were delayed.

  • Three more signal failures 42ND ST - PORT AUTHORITY delayed an additional 595,773 riders.

  • Other problematic subway stops seeing frequent signal failures include:

    • 34TH ST - PENN STATION, with 6 signal failures delaying 511,732 riders

    • ROOSEVELT AVENUE (JACKSON HEIGHTS), with 6 signal failures delaying 308,128 riders

    • DELANCEY STREET, with 6 signal failures delaying 173,332 riders

    • KINGS HIGHWAY, with 6 failures delaying 93,916 riders

    • QUEENSBORO PLAZA, with 6 failures delaying 81,526 riders

    • 111 STREET - JAMAICA AV, with 6 failures delaying 54,760 riders

Did these signal failure events make the MTA’s list of “major incidents?” We may never know; the individual incidents are not included on the Dashboard. relies on the the MTA’s @NYCT Twitter-stream, and uses average daily ridership numbers (estimated by the MTA from 2016 data) at a given subway stop to estimate the number of riders delayed. This analysis does not account for trains delayed at other stations.

Without the MTA’s disclosure of detailed signal failure data, it is nearly impossible for everyday riders to see how the agency is performing and hold it accountable.  Riders don’t know how many signal failures took place, where they occurred, how many riders were delayed, what is being done to fix those problems, or what the timeline is for signal modernization.

Meanwhile, in addition to systematic under-reporting, the MTA continues to systematically under-fund the signal system. The MTA’s $836 million Subway Action Plan released in July 2017 added $34 million in new capital expenditures for signals. But the Citizens Budget Commission reports that the capital plan amendment released at the same time removed $262 million for signals & communications.

Presently, just $2.7 billion dollars sits in the MTA’s capital budget to modernize the signals on 3 of the subway’s 21 lines (only 1 has been modernized so far). Experts estimate it will take roughly 10 times what’s currently budgeted to modernize the entire system.

At the MTA’s current pace, it will take 50 years. At that rate, with 479 signal failures per quarter delaying 11.1 million riders, signal failures will delay an additional 2.2 billion riders.

Call on Governor Cuomo and the MTA to fix the Signals today!