Your New Jersey correspondent was perusing the news from the BBC and his eye was caught by an advice column with this quote: “If you mess up, it’s your responsibility to fess up.” Is this good advice? Let’s look at both sides of the issue with examples from rail and transit:
But, sometimes if you distort the truth too much, you’ll get called out for it. The New York Times figured out that “railroads deem a train late only if it reaches its terminus more than 5 minutes and 59 seconds after the scheduled arrival time.” And News 12 Long Island reported that “after Sandy, LIRR officials say they changed the official definition of a late train from one that is more than six minutes late to one that is more than 16 minutes late.”
Sometimes you have to battle misleading propaganda, and it’s not prudent to undermine your own position. Some people are against mass transit projects, and they will use misleading statements to stop them. The Sierra Club was against NJ Transit’s proposed ARC tunnel, and produced misleading propaganda against the project. And, anti-tunnel politicians spun a web of lies! And, eventually they stopped its construction.
But, you might get caught in your lies if you can’t produce results. The East Side Access project’s opening date has been moved back by over ten years. And, the DC Metro’s Silver Line’s opening was pushed back by about seven months. These projects seem to be worth the wait, but it hurts other proposed projects if people think they can’t be built on schedule.
Making yourself look bad may get you fired. People might find it helpful to know when their rail and transit is going to be late. It may allow them to better plan their trips, however, it may also cause them to avoid transit altogether (and possibly even drive). An article in the Washington Post says about chronically delayed Amtrak trains: “it’s probably time to eliminate those costly, poorly-performing long-distance routes completely.”
If you lie too much, other people might try to figure out the information themselves. Ever wait on the tarmac and hear the pilot say: “just minutes away from taking off”? Well, now you don’t have to trust the pilot. The US Department of Transportation publishes some information regarding delayed airline flights. For example, a United Airlines flight was delayed on the tarmac for 222 minutes on May 9th. And, we can’t trust freight railroads. They’re fighting the disclosure of information about oil shipments.
So, there you have it. All sides of the issue about whether it’s important to admit mistakes.