Sunday, January 31, 2016

NYC Transit's storm response last weekend - an A for storm response and a D for miscommunication at 145th Street.

How about the storm response from the MTA last weekend?  Except for a hiccup on the Long Island Railroad, most everything else went back to normal by Monday morning (1/25).  The Jonas blizzard saw the east cost from North Carolina to Connecticut blanketed with snow - - surprisingly Boston only had a dusting compared to the storms of 2015.

Let's face it, I could go on about how NYC Transit didn't inform customers about some service changes on Friday night and Monday/Tuesday nights.  But I can say that their performance in handling the storm outweighs the negatives.  Well almost, as I was stuck waiting for a D train on Sunday morning, more on that later.

The highlight of MTA and NYC Transit's decision making was to allow underground-only subway service to continue throughout the storm, allowing about 40 percent of the subway network to run, mostly within Manhattan. (You can see the rush job on the underground map, it shows the D stopping at 36th Street in Brooklyn when it was running only in Manhattan and the Bronx.)  Rather than shutting down the entire subway system or to let the trains run until they are stranded from a snowbank, the suspension of almost all above ground service was a solid, smart, and sensible plan to keep some amount of public transportation running.   The  problem was communication - - which even the MTA admitted they faltered in the communication process.    The MTA's bus/train tracking application data was not working, making it harder to track buses and some subway lines during the storm.

Now for the Sunday morning debacle (on 1/24  ), which happened on the D line at 145th Street.  I arrived at 8:50 AM waiting for an Uptown D train.  At that time, the D was running only between Broadway-Lafayette Street in Manhattan and 205th Street-Norwood in the Bronx, however service to Coney Island was in the process of bring restored. The 145th Street station was one of a select few IND station which uses a makeshift PA/CIS (Customer Information System) setup using block signals to determine a train's position relative to the station you are at.  Unlike the full fledged PA/CIS system used on the IRT lines (except for the 7), the L line and the Staten Island Railway which are commonly called "countdown clocks" and are tied to mobile phone applications, these electronic signs only tell whether a train is arriving or up to two stations away - - it does not identify the line and final destination, nor how many minutes away.  At 145th Street, the electronic signs (along with the appropriate audio recording) will identify the arriving train will be an express or local, as well as the level where it will arrive (upper or Bronx bound/Lower).  So, my uptown D train (where it normally arrives) would have the message "The next Bronx bound train is now arriving on the (pause) lower level.  Please stand clear.....".

That message was played twice and twice the D train never arrived at 145th lower level.  The first "arrival" message was at 9:10 AM, about 20 minutes after I first entered the lower level.   That uptown D train never showed up.  At 9:25 AM, I placed my first non-emergency call through the Help Point intercom and spoke to Charles who said he has no way of knowing when the next Bronx-bound D train will arrive.  At 9:35, another message and announcement indicated that a "Bronx bound train is now arriving on the lower level" (indicating the Bronx bound D train was arriving at 145 lower).  Nothing showed up so I went back to the Help Point intercom again and spoke to Starks at 9:35.  Again, same answer as Charles, they have no answers as to when the next train will arrive but only stated that there are delays of up to 30 minutes (and I was waiting since 850 AM).  At 9:55 AM, over an hour since I and now over a hundred people were waiting to get to the Bronx, an manual announcement came over the PA system "There are delays in Uptown D service, the next Uptown D train is at (drum roll)....West 4th Street",  I immediately gave up and went outside where an arriving Bx19 bus would carry me over the 145th Street bridge and to the Bronx Terminal Market/Gateway Mall area where my garaged vehicle is waiting.  (Best 25 dollars I ever spent on keeping my car out of the storm)

Now that's really stupid to have people wait for over an hour for an Uptown D train with no announcements - - and the makeshift next train indicators were not giving right information by teasing us customers twice that the D train was arriving when it wasn't - - , only to tell them over an hour later that the next D train is at West 4th Street which was another 30 minutes away (D trains were running local between West 4th to 34th Street and again from 59th Street to 145th Street due to necessary train storage on the express tracks).  If it involved the D trains which were going to Broadway-Lafayette be extended to Coney Island then return back, I could be speculating on this.  However when people are waiting up to 90 minutes for a D train to arrive at 145 when the normal running time is 1 hour and 28-32 minutes between Coney Island and 205th Street, end to end, then there is something really wrong with the communication process by NYC Transit.  While MTA NYC Transit's storm response has been excellent, the act of ignoring and dumping customers who end up waiting over 90 minutes for a D train to the Bronx with two false announcements over the CIS indicators and no manual announcement until over an hour after the last D train left 145 before I arrived, is totally unacceptable and reeks of ignorance and incompetence in the communication process by MTA NYC Transit.  

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