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NYS Comptroller


Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Selected Performance Measures

Issued: January 6, 2020
Link to full audit report 2018-S-18

To determine whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) constituent agencies’ performance measurements are accurate and consistent. In addition, we sought to determine whether the MTA uses relevant metrics to measure its performance. The audit covers the period between January 1, 2015 and August 22, 2018.

About the Program
The MTA is a public benefit corporation chartered by the New York State Legislature in 1965. There are six constituent agencies of the MTA: MTA Bridges and Tunnels, MTA Capital Construction, Metro-North Railroad (Metro-North), Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), New York City Transit (Transit [consisting of Transit Subways and Transit Bus]), and MTA Bus Company (MTA Bus). (The latter four are the focus of this report and are herein collectively referred to as Agencies.)

The MTA is required under the Public Authorities Law to report annually on its performance. Each Agency identifies specific performance measures related to its mission, such as ridership and mean distance between failures (MDBF). In addition to the annual report, performance and other measures are reported to specific committees of the MTA Board on a monthly basis. Certain measures are also reported on the Performance Metrics Dashboards and other areas of the MTA website.

In addition, the MTA is required by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to report certain performance measures to the National Transit Database (NTD). The FTA uses this information as the basis for allocation of federal funding. In some instances, the FTA defines a performance measure differently than the MTA. For example, the MTA generally considers ridership to be the sum of all fare-paying customers, whereas the FTA defines ridership as the number of times passengers board public transportation vehicles (including transfers).

Key Findings
Given the millions of people who rely on MTA transportation, it is incumbent on its Agencies to accurately report on their performance. As reported to the MTA Board and committees – and further disseminated to the public by the MTA on its website and elsewhere – these performance data are critical to evaluating actual service and conditions.

For two key performance measures – MDBF and ridership – we identified deficiencies and inconsistencies in Agencies’ methodology and calculations that may result in misleading or inaccurate results. Examples of the issues are as follows:

  • Transit Subways and LIRR calculate the miles component of MDBF using the miles per train car rather than the actual distance traveled by the whole train, which generally results in a significantly higher (approximately eight to ten times, based on the number of train cars) – and misleading – MDBF.
  • Our review of how MDBF was calculated by the LIRR found that the agency did not include all mechanical failures in its calculation. For the month reviewed, 24 incidents were included in MDBF. However, another 14 incidents that were mechanical in nature and resulted in delays or lost trips were not included in its MDBF calculation. Had they been included, the number of failures would have been 58 percent higher, and the MDBF would have been 156,493 as opposed to 247,780.
  • LIRR and Metro-North use a model based on a 36-year-old survey of passenger travel patterns to estimate the number of trips to include in ridership for weekly and monthly commutation ticket holders. Commutation tickets were about 60 percent of ridership in 2017.
  • MTA Bus does not include non-paying passengers when reporting ridership to the NTD. Although the need to include non-revenue riders is not explicitly stated in the NTD Manual, those numbers are used to allocate federal funding.

Key Recommendations

  • Evaluate Transit Subways and LIRR MDBF to determine if it is an easily understood, accurate representation of car fleet reliability and service reliability and determine whether changes need to be made regarding how the metrics are calculated and presented.
  • Update the survey used to calculate commuter railroads’ ridership statistics, including, but not limited to, consideration of ticket use patterns; changes in the composition and travel habits of customers; and changes in ticket, pass, and refund policies.
  • Adjust the MTA Bus ridership methodology for FTA reporting to properly identify non-revenue riders.

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Carmen Maldonado
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email:
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236