Changes for “Service Changes” and Beyond

If I’ve learned anything during my first year in New York City, it’s that New Yorkers don’t just live in the now... they live in the right now.

While we’ve long reported performance metrics at a high level, our customers want to know how Subway service is right now—not over the last quarter.

Our job at Transit is to get you where you need to be, when you need to be there, and our communications should always support that mission. We know that providing real-time service information in a useful and customer-centric way is a place where we’ve fallen short.

In that spirit, I’m delighted to announce a change in our approach to customer communications that we hope will help all of you right now: we are overhauling the language we use in our Service Status box on MTA.info and other digital channels.

The Challenges with “Service Changes,” “Delays,” and “Good Service”

The “Service Status Box” on mta.info has used limited language to describe the wide range of scenarios we may encounter on the Subway. Trains can be sent on different tracks, rerouted to different lines, or even may not run because of all sorts of disruptions. While this flexibility can be an asset, it can also force us to deviate from “normal” service in ways that create challenges for customers.

Using blanket terms like “Service Change” isn’t particularly transparent and doesn’t provide the quick, at-a-glance information you need to make decisions about your best travel options.

We also know that our default status of “Good Service” is confusing, subjective, and is sometimes frustrating for customers. (It’s worth repeating that “Good Service” is a default and not an affirmation of the quality of service currently running.)

Here are some challenges with “Good Service”

  • Because we often change service status based on disruptions we know about instead of unknown impacts to service, riders often tell us they’re experiencing longer-than-expected waits for trains even though the site says “Good Service.” Customers deserve better.

  • Beyond that, even if we are running service perfectly, it can confuse our riders if they don’t know what train service is supposed to be like at a given time of day. Customers deserve context.

  • Similarly, posting “Delays” can also leave riders unsatisfied because the magnitude of delays can vary widely. You all deserve more specificity.

Our goal is to increase transparency about what’s actually happening and make our service status information more useful as customers plan their travel.

Right Now: Better Language

First, we’re going to eliminate “Service Changes” as a status option and replace it with more specific language that explains what is actually happening right now with the Subway.

Starting this Monday (June 3), you’ll see phrases like “Trains Rerouted” or “Part Suspended” to give customers targeted, at-a-glance information to help understand what’s happening on the Subway. We have multiple language options to reflect the vast majority of situations where we previously used “Service Change.”

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Looking Forward: Better Data

As we chart our course for the next year, the ultimate goal is to effectively leverage the immense amount of data generated by the subway to help customers understand how trains are running, line-by-line, borough-by-borough, and direction-by-direction. We also want to provide information to help customers understand scheduled frequencies based on time of day and day of week so they know what to expect.

Deciding how to present this real-time information effectively is a challenge because of the complexity of our system and gaps in our own data. So, our in-house teams are working to determine the best way to provide this information in a user-friendly way so we can remove “Good Service” and “Delays” from our collective vocabulary. It’s also our intent to publish this data as a feed for third party developers to use in their applications.

Simply put, enhancing the quality of real time information is a key priority for all of us because of the impact it has on all of our customers.

We’ve made significant strides to improve the quality of Subway performance through our Fast Forward plan. We’ve reduced delays by more than 10,000 late trains each month for the last five months. Our on-time performance reached its highest point in over four years. The number of major incidents has stabilized. We couldn’t be prouder of our employees for driving these numbers in a positive direction.

I’m a New Yorker now. We all deserve to know how we’re doing now. Our team at New York City Transit is dedicated to bringing you this information you deserve

Joshua Gee