Making Transit Forgettable

After nearly thirty years in transit, I’ve learnt to take the rough with the smooth.

You can have a really bad run of incidents for no apparent reason and with no obvious connection that is just as quickly followed by a purple patch of good performance.  While the former rightly causes angst and frustration for riders and transit employees alike, a good run rarely garners positive headlines as it is what people should expect for their hard earned fares.

In a previous role, I was the Operations Director for a UK train operating company with a very demanding, highly experienced railwayman for a boss.  He really taught me the value of focusing on the detail to make good days the norm and although I found him annoying at the time, I now realize he was right and I have become that person!

At Transit, we are really trying to make your journey forgettable.  While that might seem an odd thing to say, and while we are equally focused on improving our levels of customer service as well as service reliability, one measure of success for me is that things go so smoothly that, if asked, you can’t even remember your last trip. 

A lot goes into making a forgettable journey.  Any transit system relies on people and equipment being in the right place at the right time and on everything working as it should do.  This was hard enough at other places I have worked but it’s particularly challenging here in New York where we are grappling with decades of under-investment that has left us operating safe but ancient equipment that should have been consigned to the museum years ago! Ever more congested streets present huge challenges for our bus and Access-A-Ride operations while, on the subway, the maze of tunnels and switches that give us great flexibility and many of our riders a one-seat ride, also mean that any delay spreads rapidly across the network if not very quickly contained.

Our Fast Forward plan will resolve these issues by modernizing every aspect of our operations – our infrastructure, our processes and our culture.  But you should not have to wait for that plan to be funded and executed; in addition to mounting a big campaign to convince stakeholders to fund Fast Forward, we are engaged in an all-out focus on the basics of our existing operation.  By this I mean a relentless, ongoing drive to cut out avoidable errors, to get to the root cause of incidents, to drive up service reliability and to deliver tangible, continuous improvement in service, right now.

I am very proud of the 50,000 men and women that keep New York City moving, somewhat against the odds.  Most days, most of our 8 million daily riders aren’t delayed but that’s not what makes the headlines. We won’t rest until we make that the norm, though - there is lots left to do.

Joshua Gee