MTA official: Subways struggle to move masses

For years, subway overcrowding has taken much of the blame for bungling our commutes. But on Tuesday, the new head of New York City Transit confirmed what many New Yorkers have long suspected if not always known: Overcrowding is often not the cause of delays but an effect of them.

"Overcrowding is, I'd say, a fairly unscientific pot into which to put delays because at the end of the day, there must be an underlying reason why we're just not able to move the masses," New York City Transit President Andy Byford said.

Byford fielded questions following a New York City Transit and MTA Bus committee meeting about a particularly messy morning commute Tuesday after signal problems left riders on the F, N, M, Q, R, and W trains searching for alternate ways to get to work and school.

"Overcrowding is in itself not the root cause," he said.

"It's something that riders know all too well and we're thankful that President Byford has acknowledged today what's really going on underground," said Danny Pearlstein, the policy director of Riders Alliance. "Overcrowding is a factor because the system isn't up to the challenge facing it today."

Pearlstein called transit systems the economic engines of our cities and looked to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allocate the necessary funds to modernize New York City's subway system and, yes, solve the problems that lead to overcrowding.

"We've seen historic disinvestment in our transit system," Pearlstein said.

Byford has indicated that he hopes to begin that process by updating the subway's nearly century-old signal system.

"With modern signaling, you can hugely increase both the capacity and the reliability of service," he said. "Even on a good day, we're struggling with the number of people we carry."