In the summer of 2014, New York City Transit intern Philip Betheil was finishing up his master’s in urban planning at Columbia University when his boss, David Greenberger, gave him a project. The two worked for NYCT’s operations planning division, and Greenberger tasked Betheil with looking into an arcane bit of subway minutiae called signal modifications and what effect they had on train service. They worked on the report on and off over that summer, tossing more than a dozen drafts back and forth.
In August of 2014, after Betheil’s internship had ended, the draft report languished in the organization’s digital innards. (Betheil declined to comment on the record for this article. Greenberger did not respond to a request for comment.)
But now, more than three years later, the report, which was obtained by the Village Voice along with other internal documents, provides a radically different explanation for the subway’s declining performance than the one that MTA leadership has given the public. The root cause of the subway system’s decay, it turns out, isn’t budget cuts or overcrowding — rather, the collapse of the subway system appears to have been primarily self-inflicted by the authority itself, in response to a single accident two decades ago that set the transit system on a path to disaster.
Moreover, these internal documents suggest that much of what the MTA is doing to fix the subways, including the authority’s $836 million Subway Action Plan, is not addressing the bulk of the delays that are plaguing the city’s transit system. And only now has the subway’s leadership, since the recent hiring of New York City Transit president Andy Byford, begun to seriously consider its own role.
“It’s not that complicated,” a source with direct knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified told the Village Voice. “The trains are slower because they slowed the trains down.”