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News Release

For Release:
Tuesday, May 2, 2006, 9:00 am

For more information, contact:
Neysa Pranger at (917) 532-0567
or Charity Carbine at (212) 349-6460


More than One in Four Payphones in Subway Stations Don’t Fully Work, Surveys Find

Best Station: 34th St-Penn Station (A, C, and E);
Worst: Chambers St-WTC (A, C and E)/Park Pl (2, 3)

More than one in four payphones in New York City Transit subway stations do not fully work, according to two surveys released today by the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign.

In one survey of 808 telephones at 100 randomly selected subway stations, 29% (survey margin of error is +/- 3%) were found to be “non-functioning,” with problems ranging from no dial tone to coin slot blocked. This finding is consistent with summer of 2002 findings when an identical campaign survey rated 31% of phones non-functioning. (See Table One.)

In a second survey, the campaign tested 401 pay telephones in the 15 most-used New York City Transit subway stations and found 28% to be non-functioning.

Under a new contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Verizon is not required to keep any minimum number of payphones in working order. Previous contracts called for 95% of phones to be “fully operative and in service at all times,” but new language reads, “[Verizon] shall exercise good faith effort to clear 95% of all known troubles within 24 hours.”

“We’re very disappointed the MTA and Verizon did not agree to a minimum level of service operability,” said Neysa Pranger, coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign.

Last fall, the MTA released a Request for Proposal seeking bids from companies to install cell phone service in subway stations. The agency estimates approximately half of all New Yorkers do not own cell phones. Pranger added, “Even when stations are wired for cell phone use, riders need payphones to keep in touch, especially during times of delay and emergency.”

Both surveys were conducted between June 6th and August 15th, 2005.

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • The best of the most-used stations — with 92% of payphones functioning — is 34th Street- Penn Station (A, C, E);
  • The worst of the most-used stations — with only 38% working phones — is Chambers St-WTC (ACE)/Park Pl (2, 3);
  • The most improved large station is 14 St-Union Square (4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, R and W), which improved from 40% working payphones in 2005 to 73% this year;
  • The most deteriorated large station is Canal St (6, J, M, N, Q, R, W, Z) which fell from 95% functioning payphones to 59% in this survey;
  • Among the 13 largest subway stations common to last year’s survey and this one, we found that payphone functioning rates improved in six and grew worse in seven (see Table Two).

Telephones were deemed non-functioning if the handset was missing or unusable; there was no dial tone; surveyors were unable to connect a call to a 1-800 number; the coin slot was blocked; coins deposited did not register; or the telephone would not return a coin.

In the survey of all 1109 phones, the leading reason for phones being rated as non-functioning was no dial tone (35%); followed by coin slot blocked (17%); coin not returned and coin not registering (14%); cannot connect to a 1-800 test number (13%); and bad handset (7%). (See attached Chart One.)

Two regularly scheduled surveys conducted by or on behalf of the MTA found better levels of performance in 2005, noted Charity Carbine, field organizer for the Straphangers Campaign. However, she noted that both surveys used different methodologies, which might explain the difference in findings.

For example, in its Passenger Environment Survey (PES), New York City Transit’s Operations Planning Division found 91% of subway pay telephones to be in working order during the first half of 2005 and 89% during the second half. Carbine noted the discrepancy between Straphangers and PES surveys might have arisen from two major differences. First, the PES draws its sample from the entire subway station population (468 stations) and does not restrict itself to the most-used stations. Second, these surveyors do not perform a coin drop to test the phones, rating telephones as functioning if the surveyor notes an undamaged handset and is able to contact a specific 1-800 test number.

Surveys conducted for the MTA by an independent contractor during the same time as the Campaign’s survey (June August, 2005) found 78% of payphones to be functioning properly. The difference in results is likely due to the stations selected in each survey.
The full report can be viewed at http://www.straphangers.org. The survey work of the Straphangers Campaign is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a national leader in encouraging citizen-based assessment of public services.

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methodology | table 1 | table 2 | table 3 | chart 1

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www.straphangers.org | www.nypirg.org