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State of the Subways Report Card
NYPIRG STRAPHANGERS CAMPAIGN • SUMMER 2003

News Release 

I. Findings
Chart One: Straphangers Campaign Line Ratings
Chart Two: How Does Your Subway Line Rate?
Chart Three: Best to Worst Subway Lines by Indicator

II. Summary of Methodology

III. Why a Report Card on the State of the Subways?

IV. Profiles of 22 Subway Lines

V. Appendix (pdf)

VI. Credits
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I. Findings

What do subway riders want?

They want short waits, regular and reliable service, a chance for a seat, a clean car and announcements that tell them what they need to know. That’s what MTA New York City Transit’s own polling of its riders show.1

This "State of the Subways" Report Card tells riders how their lines do on key aspects of service. We look at six measures of subway performance for the city’s 22 major subway lines, using recent data compiled by MTA New York City Transit, mostly for the last half of 2002.2 Much of the information has not been released publicly before on a line-by-line basis.

Our report card has three parts:

First is a comparison of service on 22 lines, as detailed in the attached charts.

Second, we give an overall “MetroCard Rating”3 to each of 20 lines.4

Third, the report contains one-page profiles on each of the 22 lines. These are intended to provide riders, officials, and communities with an easy-to-use summary of how their lines perform compared to others.

This is the sixth Subway Report Card issued by the Straphangers Campaign since 1996.

We did not issue a Report Card in 2002. Because of the severe impact on the subways from the World Trade Center attack, ratings based on service at the end of 2001 would not have been appropriate.

Our findings show the following picture of how New York City’s subways are doing:

The best subway line in the city is the L, with a “MetroCard Rating” of $1.30. The L ranked high because its cars break down the least in the system; the line also has frequently scheduled rush-hour service and performs above average on arriving with regularity and on announcements. The line did not get a higher rating because it performed below average on chance of getting a seat during rush hours and on car cleanliness. The L runs between Manhattan’s middle West Side and Canarsie, Brooklyn. This is the first time the L line has ranked first in the Straphangers Campaign Report Card since we began rating lines in 1996. The top performance is due in large measure to the new technology subway cars, which began replacing the line’s aging fleet in 2002.

The worst subway line is the 5, with a MetroCard Rating of 65 cents. The 5 line has the worst breakdown rate and the poorest regularity of service of all 22 lines; the line also finished second worst in getting a seat during rush hour. The 5 line also performed below average on amount of scheduled service. The 5 line did not receive a lower rating because its cars are slightly cleaner and its performance on announcements is better than the system average. The 5 line operates between the northern Bronx and Flatbush, Brooklyn during rush hours; at other times, the line terminates in lower Manhattan. The 5 was the worst line in the 2000 Straphangers Campaign Report Card, which rated service for the last six months of 1999.

There are great disparities in how subway lines perform.

  • Breakdowns: The L had the best record on delays caused by car mechanical failures: once every 298,975 miles. The 5 line had the worst, experiencing breakdown delays more than three times as often: once every 80,724 miles.
  • Cleanliness: The 3 was the cleanest line, with only 7% of its cars having moderate or heavy dirt, while 40% of cars on the dirtiest line — J/Z — had moderate or heavy dirt, a much worse performance.
  • Chance of getting a seat: We rate a rider’s chance of getting a seat at the most congested point on the line. We found the best chance is on the D line, where riders had a 54% chance of getting a seat during rush hour. The 4 ranked worst and was much more overcrowded, with riders having only a 29% chance of getting a seat.
  • Amount of scheduled service: The 4 line has the most scheduled service, with four to four-and-a-quarter-minute intervals between trains during rush hours. The B and M rank worst, with nine to ten minute intervals between trains during this period.
  • Regularity of service: Two lines tie with the greatest regularity of service: The B and D arrive within two to four minutes of their scheduled interval 92% of the time.5 The most irregular line is the 5, which performed with regularity only 78% of the time.
  • In-car announcements: The 6 line had the highest rate of adequate announcements made in its subway cars, 98%. The 1/9 was the worst, at 82%.

4. Overall, subway cars are breaking down far less often then they did in 2000. During the last six months of 2000, system-wide subway cars traveled 110,586 miles on average without a mechanical problem causing a delay. In this Report Card, for the last six months of 2002, system-wide breakdown rate was every 151,349 — a 37% improvement in performance from 2000. This reflects the arrival in service of hundreds of new technology subway cars. Officials at MTA New York City Transit deserve credit for doing a good job in buying and putting these new cars into service.

5. Breakdowns lessened on 10 subway lines (2, 3, 5, 6, C, E, J/Z, L, M, and R) and grew worse on five (1/9, 4, 7, A and N). The remaining seven lines were either substantially re-routed since 2001 (B, D, F, G and Q) or are new (V and W)6 since our last Report Card.

  • The most improved line for breakdowns was the L. The line went from breaking down every 124,380 miles in the last sixth months of 2000 to every 298,975 miles in the last six months of 2002 — improving its performance by well more than double.
  • The most deteriorated line for breakdowns was the N. The line went from breaking down every 182,929 miles in the last sixth months of 2000 to every 106,913 miles in the last six months of 2002 — worsening its performance by more than 40 percent.

6. Overall, subway cars are less clean than they were in 2000. During the last six months of 2000, system-wide subway cars with clean seats and floors declined from 85% to 78%.

7. Car cleanliness worsened on 12 subway lines (1/9, 4, 5, 6, 7, C, E, J/Z, L, M, N and R) and grew better on three (2, 3 and A). The remaining seven lines were either substantially re-routed since 2001 (B, D, F, G and Q) or are new (V and W) since our last Report Card.

  • The most improved line for car cleanliness was the 2. The line went from 83% cars with clean seats and floors to 91% between the last six months of 2000 to 2002.
  • The most deteriorated lines for car cleanliness was the J/Z. It went from 81% clean cars to 60% between the last six months of 2000 to 2002.

8. This Report Card cannot make comparison to past performance for the remaining four of six measures. That’s because in 2001 and 2002 transit officials changed the way they calculate these aspects of service, which include: frequency of service; regularity of service; seat availability; and announcements.7

All the findings described above are detailed in the attached charts and profiles:
Chart One lists the MetroCard Ratings for 20 subway lines.
Chart Two details the differences in performance on all six measures among 22 lines.
Chart Three ranks lines from best to worst on each measure.
Following the charts are detailed one-page profiles for 22 subway lines.
New York City Residents’ Perceptions of New York City Transit Service, 1999 Citywide Survey, prepared for MTA New York City Transit.



II. Summary of Methodology

The NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign reviewed extensive MTA New York City Transit data on the quality and quantity of service on 22 subway lines. We used the latest comparable data available, largely the second half of 2002. Several of the data items have not been publicly released before on a line-by-line basis. We then calculated a "MetroCard Rating"—intended as a shorthand tool to allow comparisons among lines—for 20 subway lines, as follows:

First, we formulated a scale of the relative importance of measures of subway service. This was based on a survey we conducted of a panel of transit experts and riders, and an official survey of riders by MTA New York City Transit. The six measures were weighted as follows:

Amount of service
• scheduled amount of service . . . 30%

Dependability of service
• percent of trains arriving at regular intervals . . . 22.5%
• breakdown rate . . . 12.5%

Comfort/usability
• chance of getting a seat . . . 15%
• interior cleanliness . . . 10%
• adequacy of in-car announcements . . . 10%

Second, for each measure, we compared each line’s performance to the best- and worst-performing lines.
A line equaling the system best would receive a score of 100 for that indicator, while a line matching the system low would receive a score of 0.
These scores were then multiplied by the percentage weight of each indicator, and added up to reach an overall raw score. Below is an illustration of calculations for a line, in this case the 4.

Figure 1 4 line value 4 line score Percentage 4 line
Indicator including best and worst in system out of 100 Weight adjusted score
Scheduled service AM rush-4 min; midday-5 min; PM rush-4:15 100 30% 30
Service regularity 81% (best-92%; worst-78%) 24 22.5% 5
Breakdown rate 136,345 miles (best-298,975; worst-80,724 miles) 25 12.5% 3
Crowding 29% seated (best-54%; 4 is worst) 0 15% 0
Cleanliness 79% clean (best-93%; worst-60%) 58 10% 6
Announcements 83% adequate (best-98%; worst-82%) 6 10% 1
Adjusted score total Best-72 pts-L line; Worst-25 pts-5 line

4 line-45 pts.

Third, the summed totals were then placed on a scale which emphasizes the relative differences between scores nearest the top and bottom of the scale. (See Appendix I.)

Finally, we converted each line’s summed raw score to a MetroCard Rating. We created a formula with assistance from independent transit experts. A line scoring, on average, at the 50th percentile of the lines for all six performance measures would receive a MetroCard Rating of $1.00. A line which matched the 95th percentile of this range would be rated $2.00.

Officials at MTA New York City Transit reviewed the line profiles and ratings in 1997. They concluded: "Although it could obviously be debated as to which indicators are most important to the transit customer, we feel that the measures that you selected for the profiles are a good barometer in generally representing a route’s performance characteristics. . . Further, the format of your profiles. . .is clear and should cause no difficulty in the way the public interprets the information." Their full comments can be found in Appendix I, which presents a more detailed description of our methodology. Transit officials were also p an advance summary of the findings for this year's State of the Subways Report Card.

In our last five surveys, 1996—our first year for calculating MetroCard Ratings—served as a baseline. As we said in our 1997 report, Line Ratings "will allow us to use the same formula for ranking service on subway lines in the future. As such, it will be a fair and objective barometer for gauging whether service has improved, stayed the same, or deteriorated over time."

That was not possible this year.
As we noted in our 2001 Report Card: "In May 2001, transit officials made major changes in how several of the indicators are derived. The Straphangers Campaign unsuccessfully urged New York City Transit to re-consider its new methodologies, because of our concerns about the fairness of these measures and the loss of comparability with past indicators. Since transit officials rejected our request to re-calculate measures back to 1996 in line with their adopted changes, some historical comparability may be lost in future State of the Subways reports." That has, in fact, become the case.
As a result, we were not able to compare the performance of lines on four of the six measures.



III. Why A Report Card on the State of the Subways?

Why does the Straphangers Campaign publish a yearly report card on the subways?

First, riders are looking for information on the quality of their trips. That’s what public opinion polls conducted by transit officials show. "Customers have an interest in knowing how their line, as well as the overall system, is doing," according to an MTA New York City Transit telephone survey of 950 riders in 1998.

Indeed, the poll found that 55% of customers would like service information to be posted at subway stations—even when asked to weigh posting in the context of competing spending priorities. Riders expressed strong interest in getting such information as "how well the line keeps to schedules, how much service is scheduled and how well announcements are made." The MTA has, unfortunately, opposed posting such information in past years. In part, our reports have filled this gap, especially the line-by-line profiles we post on our website.

In a step forward in June 2003 the MTA began posting its quarterly performance information on its website, www. mta.info. However, none of this information is broken down by line.

Second, our Report Cards provide an overall picture of where the subways are headed. For the last six years, we have been able to document when there have been improvements or deteriorations on six measures of performance.

This year, because of changes in the way transit officials calculate these measures, we can only show trends on two measures.

The data tells us that subway cars are breaking down less often than two years ago, but that they are also less clean. The Straphangers Campaign congratulates the leadership of MTA New York City Transit for buying and putting into service new subway cars that perform well and for doing a solid job maintaining the existing fleet. We hope to see the same progress next time in the fight against subway grime.

Lastly, we aim to give community groups and public officials the information they need to win better service and hold transit managers accountable. At the Straphangers Campaign, we hear from many riders and neighborhood groups. Often they will say "Our line has got to be the worst." Or "We must be on the most crowded line." Or "Our line is much better than others."

For riders and officials on lines receiving a poor level of service, our report will help them make the case for improvements, ranging from increases in service to major repairs. That’s not just a hope. In past years, we’ve seen riders on some of the worst lines demand and win improvements, such as on the B, N and 5 lines.

For those on better lines, the report will either highlight areas for improvement—or spark discussion on what constitutes decent service. For example, riders on the 7 — once the best line in the system — have pointed to the line’s slipping to win increased service.

New Yorkers who care about the city’s transit system will use this report to hold transit managers accountable. That is why each of the profiles of 22 lines contains the telephone number for the superintendent responsible for that line.

This report is part of a series of studies on subway and bus service. For example, in March we released our annual report on subway car cleanliness. In April, we issued an analysis of how bus service levels were lagging behind a continued growth in ridership.

Our plans call for continuing to issue field surveys of specific aspects of subway service, such as car announcements and station pay telephones. In the Fall, we plan to issue our annual Pokey Awards on the slowest bus routes in the city, as well as our analyses of bus service. Click here to see our reports.

We hope that these efforts—combined with the concern and activism of many thousands of city transit riders—will win better subways and buses for New York City.

www.straphangers.org | www.nypirg.org