Area transit agency manipulating statistics? Just call it the Houston Way

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The Chronicle‘s Rosanna Ruiz reports that the performance of METRO’s bus service is registering complaints from management and riders alike:

Metro buses continue to run late and have failed to achieve the agency’s modest goal of 61 percent on-time performance, a feat that does not evoke confidence in the transit agency, board chairman David Wolff complained Thursday.

Metro buses have run on schedule 59 percent of the time for the first two months of this fiscal year. The agency reported a 55 percent on-time percentage in 2008.

“I get letters from people saying, ‘I wait and wait. I’m going to quit taking the bus because I can’t depend on it,’ ” Wolff said during the board’s monthly meeting. “An important part of running a transit service is dependability. An important part of dependability is punctuality.”

[snip]

During the public-comment portion of Thursday’s meeting, board members waited on Bellaire resident Marta Epps to breathlessly make her way to the podium, where she wanted to complain about Metro’s decision to raise the fare from $1 to $1.25.

Epps apologized, but said a late bus was to blame for her tardiness.

That’s priceless.

The following comment — not so much:

David F. Feeley, the agency’s senior vice president of operations, said the 61 percent goal is nothing to boast about, but he blamed the shortfall on the way Metro measures its travel times.

“I don’t think that number accurately reflects the actual performance,” Feeley said about Metro’s arrival and departure times in October and November.

According to Metro staff, the agency calculates its on-time performance through on-board devices that count passengers and time of arrival at each stop. The agency collects data for each stop, not simply at the start and end of each route. If one bus along a route, for instance, experiences a delay because of a parked train, subsequent stops also will be behind and recorded as late arrivals.

Buses are considered late if they are more than five minutes behind schedule. Delays of 20 minutes or more are considered “anomalous” and are excluded from the final tally.

We had to re-read that bold part a few times to make sure we were reading it correctly.

Upon reflection, however, it does not not surprise. After all, if MayorWhiteChiefHurtt’s police department can miscategorize murders so that Houston won’t be designated the murder capital of Texas on their watch, why shouldn’t the local transit agency lie about delays to make their dismal numbers look a little less dismal? We’ve been learning a lot recently about the “Chicago Way” in terms of politics — maybe we can deem this sort of deception the “Houston way!”

In any case, it’s good to see the Chronicle transportation reporter offering a little more criticism of METRO than either of the last two reporters on the beat (Rad Sallee and Lucas Wall).

Cory Crow asks some pointed questions in his post on the story. We’ll conclude with a “what he said.”


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Kevin Whited
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