The reliability of New York City’s subway system has steadily declined since the 1990s. For years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway, has said that rising ridership and overcrowding were to blame. But ridership actually stayed mostly flat from 2013 to 2018 as delays rose, and the authority recently acknowledged that overcrowding was not at fault. An analysis by The New York Times shows that two decisions made by the M.T.A. — one to slow down trains and another that tried to improve worker safety — appear to have pushed the subway system into crisis.
What makes this project innovative?
This visual investigation makes extensive use of graphics to illustrate the cause and effect of the authority’s decisions, showing exactly how slower trains and more safety rules compounded to cause delays throughout the subway system. The story shows why trains were delayed, and shows that the authority knew it, but continued to mislead the public. The story ends with an interactive visualization that shows readers how one delay became many delays when the authority’s decisions were put into action.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
The Times found that faulty signals and slower-than-necessary trains were primary causes of systemwide subway delays. Since the story was published, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has announced two changes to address the specific problems raised in the story: a multi-billion dollar plan to replace signals throughout the system and an increase in the speed limits on multiple subway lines. Readers in the comments and on social media praised the graphics, saying that the visual explanation of the problem made the subway’s issues clear. New York readers said that they finally understood why it felt like the subway was slowing down. The graphics also traveled well on social media, as readers shared screenshots of the different charts and visualizations found in the story. Stories about MTA's changes: Signal replacement plan: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/22/nyregion/nyc-subway-byford-proposal.html Increase in speed limits: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/10/nyregion/new-york-subway-delay.html
Source and methodology
The Times talked to multiple sources inside the M.T.A., including train workers and data analysts, to learn about the decisions the authority made and how it affected different parts of the system. The reporter collected internal documents that showed the effects of the authority’s decisions and collected years of data from the authority to verify the findings. The reporter also collected and analyzed realtime train travel data to find how delays piled up across the system.
By Adam Pearce Additional work by Troy Griggs. Michael LaForgia contributed reporting. Editors: Wilson Andrews, Destinee-Charisse Royal