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Originally published Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:12 AM

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N.Y. subway riders can get a ‘train made me late’ note

In New York, a city where subway delays can get workers, students and others in trouble, most riders know nothing of the system to officially assign blame. For years now, the transit authority has issued Subway Delay Verification notes to riders who need to show they tried to make it.

The New York Times

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NEW YORK — For more than 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.

Passengers are asked to provide their subway line and the times and locations of their entries and exits, among other information. 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, 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 City Police Department, medical trainees who sleep in and actresses with appointments too far across town.

The Swedish Institute in Manhattan has advised massage therapists to bookmark the delay-verification page, reminding them, as one administrator said in a recent interview, that punctuality — or, failing that, proof of good intentions — was critical to succeeding in an industry powered by restless New Yorkers in robes.

Even the city’s young educational elite, assured that lateness will beget punishment, have petitioned school staffs to accept the authority’s certificates as exculpatory.

“You know men,” said Mary Brockmeyer, an administrative aide at Regis High School, an all-boys school on the Upper East Side.

Though a version of the program has existed for decades, enlisted chiefly by municipal workers who were paid according to a punched clock, the authority said requests had nearly tripled since the service became available online in 2010.

In October, when more than 156 million subway trips were taken, according to preliminary agency data, the authority issued more than 8,200 responses to riders who asked for the documentation.

“We’d rather be at 100 percent on-time performance,” said Paul Fleuranges, the authority’s senior director of corporate and internal communications. “But nobody’s perfect.”

A survey of other major transit networks suggests that the authority is uniquely dedicated to charting its imperfections. Officials in Washington, Boston and Chicago said their systems offered no such service online, though riders can ask for a delay to be confirmed through customer service channels.

Many New Yorkers seem to have used the notices to their advantage. Marcus Greer, who travels from Queens to his job as a security guard in Midtown, said the service had helped keep punctuality-related blemishes off his permanent file. Workers who accrue too many can be fired, he said.

“Before the system was in place, they would give you a write-up right off the bat,” he said. “Even if you were late by the train, it just goes in your folder.”

In recent years, Greer said, the notices have served a dual purpose: absolving guards on particular mornings and proving to supervisors that employees probably should have been taken at their word all along.

“You have the proof,” he said. “That means they can trust you.”

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