Fact-checking MBTA union’s radio ad
Carmen's Union confuses on-time performance and completed trips
WHILE BEACON HILL engages in a high-stakes debate about the future of the T, the Boston Carmen’s Union is running ads on the radio that play loose with the facts.
The ads say the MBTA’s largest union is eager to help solve the transit authority’s problems and implies that T management is standing in the way.
“The people who drive the trains, trolleys, and buses and those who maintain those vehicles and track systems want you to know that they, too, agree, it’s time for real reform of the T and its management policies,” the ad says. “Given the advanced age of current equipment and tracks, it’s a miracle that fully 95 percent of the million-plus trips made each year have been completed on time. But the T transit workers won’t be satisfied until that number reaches 100 percent. To make that goal a reality, T management needs to see T workers as part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
The ad claims that 95 percent of the T’s trips are “completed on time.” MBTA statistics analyzed by CommonWealth indicate the system’s on-time performance for subways and buses is closer to 72 percent (67 percent this year to date), with the performance of the Orange Line and bus service dragging down the overall percentage.
O’Brien’s numbers for completed trips come from calculations by the T on the number of dropped trips because of cancellations, equipment problems, or employee absenteeism. In fiscal 2014, only 1.64 percent of all weekday trips were canceled, with bus trips dropped at a slightly higher rate (1.67 percent) than rail trips (1.47 percent).
So far this year, the number of dropped bus trips has remained low – 1 percent in both January and April, 2 percent in March, and 4 percent in February. For the subway, the number of dropped trips this year was not immediately available, though problems across the subway system in February were widespread.
The Carmen’s Union ad, however, refers not to dropped subway and bus trips but trips completed on time. On that score, the record isn’t as good. In 2014, the on-time performance was 96 percent for the Blue Line, 95 percent for the Red Line, 90 percent for the Orange Line, and 68 percent for the bus. Weighting the bus numbers more heavily because so many more bus trips are run, the composite on-time number for the system as a whole was 72 percent.
Those numbers dropped across the board between January and March, with the Blue Line at 90 percent, the Red Line at 93 percent, the Orange Line at 85 percent, and bus at 63 percent. The composite on-time rate for the entire system so far this year is 67 percent.
According to state transportation officials, a bus is determined to be on time if it leaves less than three minutes beyond the scheduled departure time, it reaches its mid-route point less than seven minutes behind schedule, or it arrives at its destination less than five minutes late.
For subways, on-time performance is based on the scheduled frequency of service. An on-time train must leave its first station within 1.5 times of the scheduled interval between it and the previous train. So if the scheduled interval between trains is 10 minutes, a train must leave the station within 15 minutes of the previous train to be considered on-time.
Steve Koczela is a data analyst for CommonWealth and the president of the MassINC Polling Group, which is owned by MassINC, the publisher of CommonWealth.
Transcript of Boston Carmen’s Union radio ad
This week and over the coming months, much will be written and spoken about how to make our Greater Boston transportation system run better. The people who drive the trains, trolleys, and buses and those who maintain those vehicles and track systems want you to know that they, too, agree, it’s time for real reform of the T and its management policies. Given the advanced age of current equipment and tracks, it’s a miracle that fully 95 percent of the million-plus trips made each year have been completed on time. But the T transit workers won’t be satisfied until that number reaches 100 percent. To make that goal a reality, T management needs to see T workers as part of the solution, not part of the problem. They and the public need to know each one of us is committed to helping turn the oldest public transportation system in the nation into the best transportation system in the nation. Simply put, we’re here to help. We want to help. Paid for by the folks who drive and maintain your trains, tracks, buses, and trolleys. Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589.