The Citizens Budget Commission’s Charles Brecher presented a report this morning on “Benchmarking Efficiency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Services.” Brecher and his staff compared the MTA’s operating efficiency across subways, buses, and commuter-rail systems across those of other nine major cities in the U.S.

Brecher’s conclusion:

[T]he MTA’s bus system is “inefficient in comparison to other large U.S. bus systems and comprise a major portion of MTA operating expenses. Similarly, the two commuter railroads are relatively inefficient, with the LIRR often ranking as the worst in the nation.

The buses won Brecher’s “bottom of this pack” distinction, quoted above. On labor productivity in the MTA’s bus system, for example, the MTA comes in 10th out of 10 in terms of how many hours of service customers get for every hour that an MTA employee works, 21 percent worse than the median.

Metro North and Long Island Rail Road rank low, too, largely because of “exceptionally high maintenance costs,” Brecher notes. The ranks are particularly dismal when one considers that the LIRR’s trains are the newest in the nation.

The MTA does much better on subways, with the lowest cost per hour of service after Chicago. However, the drawback to this comparison — as discussed at today’s breakfast — is that it likely would be better to compare the MTA’s subway system to global networks, not to American ones. The MTA’s system is four times as big as runner-up Chicago, for example, in operating costs.

As one audience member noted, New York’s subway system only has two peers in the world, London and Tokyo. Without comparisons to these and other large European and Asian systems, we can’t know if the MTA is wringing all of the benefits from potential economies of scale in the subways.

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