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Matthew Casale,
MASSPIRG

IN NEW REPORT, MASSPIRG RECOMMENDS IMPROVEMENTS TO MBTA’S METHOD FOR MEASURING T SERVICE RELIABILITY

For Immediate Release

BOSTON, MA – A new report released today by MASSPIRG Education Fund recommends improvements to the MBTA’s reliability metrics that will lead to more accurate ratings. The MBTA publishes daily reliability ratings through its MBTA Performance Dashboard on www.mbtabackontrack.com. Despite customer service surveys that indicate over 40 percent of riders find the MBTA’s service unreliable, the reliability ratings published on the Dashboard often hover around 90 percent.

“There’s sometimes a disconnect between the data that the agencies collect for themselves and how they present it to riders,” said Matt Casale, a staff attorney with MASSPIRG. “It doesn’t necessarily tell an accurate story.”

Soon after the Fiscal Management and Control Board convened in February 2016, the MBTA unveiled the Dashboard to offer an easy-to-digest look at the system’s performance. The interactive site lets riders track how well the MBTA is serving customers across a variety of performance metrics, including reliability. However, the “Wait Time Reliability” metric used to rate the subway only measures the amount of time riders wait for trains to enter the station against the scheduled headway, or the scheduled time between trains. It does not account for on-time performance, in-route service disruptions, or overcrowding. 

“It’s as if the Patriots were defining their season’s success based only on the number of points they scored, and not on wins and losses,” said Casale. “For the most part, riders just want to know how long it’s going to take them to get somewhere, when their train is coming, and if there are any problems along the route.”

MASSPIRG’s report, titled How Reliable Is the T? Needed Improvements to the MBTA’s Method for Measuring Subway Reliability on the Back on Track Performance Dashboard, recommends that the MBTA follow the lead of transit authorities in London and New York, which are taking a much more comprehensive approach to measuring reliability. A more comprehensive approach would result a reliability statistic that better measures the things that riders care about.

Specifically, the report recommends that the MBTA (1) revise the wait time metric to reflect that average wait times should be half the scheduled headway; (2) incorporate on-time performance and service disruptions into the reliability methodology; and (3) not use the metric for policy making decisions until it is further developed.

"This MASSPIRG report shows that the MBTA has more work to do on sharing with the public an accurate and fair assessment of the health and reliability of the system,” said Chris Dempsey, Director of the statewide coalition Transportation for Massachusetts. “As the agency makes important decisions on allocating capital, it needs to get these numbers right to know where reinvestment is most critical.” 

“Reporting accurate reliability that lines up with rider's experiences is critical to taxpayer and rider confidence in the agency. Factoring in the numerous delays and disruptions riders experience on a daily basis is necessary for an agency that is often seen as opaque and disingenuous,” said Marc Ebuña, President and Co-Founder of TransitMatters. “A data-driven analysis that flies in the face of the daily reality of thousands of riders is no better than fudging the numbers entirely.” 

Although these issues are not discussed on the Back on Track website itself, according to entries in the MBTA’s Data Blog, the MBTA is aware of the limitations of its metric and intends to develop a more accurate way to measure reliability.

The full report can be read here.

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MASSPIRG is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to full participate in our democratic society. On the web at www.masspirg.org.

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