Crew Shortages Slowing Subway Service — With Workers Pinning Blame on Assaults

Crew Shortages Slowing Subway Service — With Workers Pinning Blame on Assaults

Train operators and union leaders say passengers taking anger out on transit staff is adding to delays. But MTA officials insist the system is doing better than ever.

Jose Martinez, The City

Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY

  • Republished with Permission: The Roosevelt Island Daily News

  • An MTA conductor checks the doors before their train leaves the station.
    An MTA conductor checks the doors before their train leaves the station. Oct. 3, 2023. | Alex Krales/THE CITY

    A new rise in staffing shortfalls is taking a toll on subway service, MTA records show — even after the transit agency’s two-year hiring spree to bring onboard more than 2,000 new train operators and conductors.

    Your ride may take you to places you never expected…

    The number of monthly subway delays pinned on crew shortages has been climbing steadily since the start of 2023, according to train-delay statistics posted to the state’s open data dashboard.

    In August, subway riders endured 5,640 delays stemming from staffing shortages, up from more than 1,500 such delays in January — a spike that the largest transit union blames on a 70% year-to-year increase from 2022 in attacks on subway workers that would be classified as assaults under state penal law, MTA statistics obtained by THE CITY reveal.

    “Passengers need to stop spitting on us and punching us in the face and throwing water bottles at us,” Canella Gomez, a Transport Workers Union Local 100 vice president, told THE CITY. “There would be a lot more crews available to work if the public would just stop whipping our asses.”

    But MTA spokesperson Eugene Resnick disputed that, saying there is “negligible correlation between instances in which transit workers have been victimized and crew shortages affecting service.”

    “New York City Transit is running trains with the best on-time performance in more than 10 years, while customers continue to experience more reliable and frequent service than before the pandemic,” he said.

    Resnick said crew availability has affected 1.5% of all subway trips in 2023 — down from 3.5% last year and 4.8% in 2021 and up from 0.3 to 0.4% in 2019 — while pointing to increased service frequency this year on eight subway lines, with six more lines set to get boosts in service in December. 

    According to MTA figures, the number of trains that arrived at terminals more than five minutes later than scheduled due to staffing shortfalls peaked at more than 17,500 in December 2021 — with that figure plunging to below 2,000 by January this year.

    But data also shows that subway delays tied to crew shortages have climbed more rapidly than those caused by equipment failure, police and medical emergencies. Overall, crew shortages were the number three cause of subway delays so far this year, after maintenance issues and police response.

    The uptick comes as transit officials have been touting the subway’s on-time performance, with the MTA reporting that 85% of riders in August reached their destination within five minutes of schedule.

    But the number of staffing-driven delays has been climbing for several months, data shows, even after New York City Transit ramped up hiring and accelerated training time for new train operators to counter a surge in retirements during the worst of the pandemic, when a hiring freeze was in place.

    Since the hiring freeze ended in 2021, the MTA has brought in 1,419 new train operators and 1,066 conductors, an agency spokesperson said.

    ‘I Don’t Want to Be a Target’

    TWU Local 100, which represents train operators and conductors, insists the upward trend in delays tied to staffing can be blamed, in part, on attacks against subway employees. According to MTA statistics, there were 51 assaults in the first eight months of this year, up from 30 in the same time period in 2022. More workers were spit on, too, with 52 spitting incidents through the end of August, a 30% increase from the previous year.

    The MTA says assaults on train operators and conductors have declined after peaking during the pandemic.

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    The delay numbers show the impact to service has been felt most among riders on the lettered lines, with the D, N, A, F and Q lines hit hardest by delays driven by crew shortages.

    “If the public cares about having on-time train service, they need to start caring about the public assaulting transit workers,” Gomez said. 

    The union argues that the stress of on-the-job assaults has driven some train crew members to quit, go out on workers compensation or pursue other jobs within New York City Transit that offer little or no interaction with the public.

    Ty Jeter, a train operator since 2018, has not been at the controls of a train since an enraged rider kicked in the door to her operator’s cab in January 2022 and shoved her as she was “screaming for my life” and fighting off the attacker aboard a No. 6 train in The Bronx.

    She told THE CITY she is still going through rehabilitation for back and shoulder injuries suffered during the encounter and that the mental trauma could keep her from working again as a train operator.

    “It’s enough for me to know I would not be a safe train operator for my passengers,” she said. “The second someone even leaned on my door, that would be enough to put me in a panic.”

    Jeter said her return is “up in the air.”

    “I do not want to come back to MTA if I have to be a train operator or I have to work in any public-facing position where I can be a target or where I have to defend myself,” she said. “I’m literally unable to.”

    Gomez said the increase in attacks on subway workers and delays caused by crew shortages point to a need for the MTA and the NYPD “to do something.”

    “The assaults are a problem,” he said. “If you get rid of the assaults, it would definitely help with the crew availability.”

    THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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