Infrastructure & Environment

Delayed Train? Skeptical Boss? NYC Subway Gives Late Notes

December 10, 2013

For over a century, there has been no more sheepish, if reliable, self-defense than this for the tardy New York City traveler: The train was late. There was nothing I could do.

But in a city where “train traffic,” that villain of automated subway announcements, can be too faceless a culprit, most riders know nothing of the system to officially assign blame, with a simple note.

Since June 2010, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has given more than 250,000 such notes, titled Subway Delay Verification, to riders, determining whether their trains had in fact come in behind schedule, or if, perhaps, the agency had been unjustly scapegoated by a harried commuter.

Passengers are asked to provide information like their subway line and the times and locations of their entries and exits. And then, maybe hours later, maybe days, the authority returns with its judgment — the transit equivalent of a doctor’s note, if a bit more bewildering.

“There was a disruption in service, specifically signal trouble, sick customer, brakes in emergency and track circuit failure, which caused massive service delays, reroutes and/or trains to be discharged on the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, A, B, C, D, F, J, L, M, N, Q and R lines,” one recent response read, in part. “As a result, any one delay lasted up to 82 minutes.”

Forms, to be presented eventually to bosses or clients, have been solicited by employees of the Museum of Modern Art and the New York Police Department, medical trainees who sleep in and actresses with appointments far across town.

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