I. Findings

What do subway riders want? 

They want short waits, trains that arrive regularly, a chance for a seat, a clean car and understandable 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 these 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.2  Much of the information has not been released publicly before on a line-by-line basis.   Most of the measures are for all or the last half of 2006.

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 the 22 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.  These profiles can also be found at our web site: www.straphangers.org.

This is the tenth Subway Report Card issued by the Straphangers Campaign since 1997.5

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

  • The best subway line in the city is the 1 for the first time since we began these rankings, with a “MetroCard Rating” of  $1.25.  The previous top-rated line – the 6 – dropped to a third-place tie.   The 1 ranked highest because it performs above average on four of six measures: frequently scheduled service, arriving with more regularity, fewer dirty cars, and better announcements.  The line did not get a higher rating because it performed below average on: a chance of getting a seat during rush hours, and delays caused by mechanical breakdowns.  The 1 runs between South Ferry in Lower Manhattan and 242nd Street in the Bronx.
  • The C and W were ranked the worst subway lines, with a MetroCard Rating of 65 cents.  The C and W lines both have a low level of scheduled service, and each performs below average on three additional measures: car breakdowns, chance of getting a seat during rush hours and announcements. The C and W did not get lower ratings because they perform at or above the system average on arriving with regularity and above average on interior cleanliness.  The C line operates between Euclid Avenue in Queens and 168th Street in Manhattan.  The W line operates between Ditmas Boulevard in Queens and Whitehall Street in Manhattan.
  • Overall, we found a mixed picture for subway service.  On the plus side, the cleanliness of the interior of cars improved form 79% rated clean in the second half of 2005 to 87% for the same time period in 2006.  But car breakdowns worsened from a mechanical failure from every 178,085 miles in 2005 to one every 156,624 miles.  Two measures remained unchanged:  regularity of arriving trains and announcements.  (We were unable to compare the remaining two measures.)6:
  • Subway cars became cleaner, going from 79% in the second half of 2005 to 87% in this report.   We found that: eighteen lines improved (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, A, B, D, E, F, G, J/Z, L, N, Q,  R and V), two worsened (2, C) and two stayed the same (M and W).
  • The car fleet breakdown rate worsened from an average mechanical failure every 178,085 miles in our last report to 156,624 in this report.  This is a troubling trend, as some cars in the transit fleet age, while many new technology cars have come on line.  We found that: nine lines improved (7, A, B, D, J/Z, L, M, N and Q) and thirteen lines worsened (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, C, E, F, G, R, V and W).
  • Subway cars arrived with nearly identical regularity, going down from 86.5% regular arrivals during the daytime in 2006 to 86.6% in this report. We found that: twelve lines improved (1, 2, 5, 7, A, E, F, G, M, N, V and W), nine worsened (3, 4, 6, B, C, J/Z, L, Q and R) and one remained unchanged (D).
  • Accurate and understandable announcements remained unchanged at 90% between our last and current reports.  We found that: nine lines improved (1, 3, 5, E, J/Z, M, N, Q and V), nine worsened (7, A, C, D, F, G, L, R and W) and four remained unchanged (2, 4, 6 and B).
  • There are large disparities in how subway lines perform.7 
    • Breakdowns:  Cars on the Q had the best record on delays caused by car mechanical failures: once every 376,877 miles.  Cars on the G line had the worst, experiencing breakdown delays more than five times as often: once every 69,361 miles. 

    • Cleanliness: The B was the cleanest line, with only 6% of their cars having moderate or heavy dirt, while 32% of cars on the dirtiest line — the F — had moderate or heavy dirt, a rate more than five times higher.

    • 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 G line, where riders had a 84% chance of getting a seat during rush hour.8  The W ranked worst and was much more overcrowded, with riders having only a 30% chance of getting a seat.

    • Amount of scheduled service: The 6 and the 7 lines had the most scheduled service, with two-and-a-half minute intervals between trains during the morning rush hour.  The M and W ranked worst, with ten-minute intervals between trains all day. 

    • Regularity of service: The G line had the greatest regularity of service, arriving within two to four minutes of its scheduled interval 91% of the time.  The most irregular line is the 5, which performed with regularity only 81% of the time.

    • In-car announcements:  The 5 line had a perfect performance for adequate announcements made in its subway cars, missing no announcements.  In contrast, the  D and Q were the worst, missing announcements 18% of the time.

All the findings described above are detailed in the attached charts and profiles: 

Chart One lists the MetroCard Ratings for 22 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.

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 from the second half of 2006.  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 22 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 in this rating period.

A line equaling the system best in 2006 would receive a score of 100 for that indicator, while a line matching the system low in 2006 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

 

 

 

 

Indicator

4 line value including best and worst in system for 5 indicators

4 line score out of 100

Percentage weight

4 line adjusted raw score

Scheduled service

AM rush—4 min; midday—5 min; PM rush—4 min

83

30%

25

Service regularity

82% (best—91%; worst—81%)

6

22.50%

1

Breakdown rate

228,382 miles (best—376,877 miles; worst—69,361 miles)

52

12.50%

6

Crowding

37% seated (best—84%; worst—30%)

13

15%

2

Cleanliness

91% clean (best—94%; worst—68%)

88

10%

9

Announcements

97% adequate (best—100%; worst—82%)

83

10%

8

Adjusted score total

 

 

 

4 line—52 pts.*

* Sum calculated before rounding individual indicator scores.

Third, the summed totals were then placed on a scale that 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 in 2006 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.

New York City Transit officials reviewed the 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 sent an advance summary of the findings for this year's State of the Subways Report Card.

For our first six surveys, we used 1996—our first year for calculating MetroCard Ratings—as a baseline.  As we said in our 1997 report, our 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.”

However, in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, transit officials made changes in how the performance indicators are measured and/or reported.  The Straphangers Campaign unsuccessfully urged MTA 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.  Transit officials also rejected our request to re-calculate measures back to 1996 in line with their adopted changes.  As a result, in this report we were forced to redefine our baseline with 2006 data, and considerable historical comparability was lost.


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.  The MTA has, unfortunately, resisted putting detailed line-by-line performance measures on their web site. In June 2003, the MTA did begin posting its quarterly performance data on its website, www.mta.info.  However, none of this information is broken down by line.  Our profiles seek to fill this gap.

Second, our report cards provide a picture of where the subways are headed.  This report card paints a picture of a stalled system:  Subway cars break down a little more often, a troubling trend at a time when hundreds of new technology subway cars have been coming on line.  The subways have shown no improvement in regularity of arrivals or in making accurate and understandable subway car announcements. On one measure we found there was significant improvement: subway cars became cleaner.

Continued progress will be a challenge.  The MTA is struggling to obtain all the planned funding for its current rebuilding program, including rising construction costs, a weak dollar and realizing $1 billion dollars from the sale of its assets, such as its valuable Manhattan rail yards.

Lastly, we aim to give communities the information they need to win better service.  We often hear from riders and neighborhood groups.  They will say, “Our line has got to be worst.”  Or “We must be on the most crowded.”  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 — including on some of the lines we found the worst — win improvements, such as on the B, N and 5 lines.

For those on better lines, the report can highlight areas for improvement.  For example, riders on the 7 — once the best in the system — have pointed to declines and won increased service.

This report is part of a series of studies on subway and bus service.  For example, we issue annual surveys on payphone service in the subways, subway car cleanliness, and subway car announcements, as well as give out the Pokey Awards for the slowest city bus routes.

Our reports can be found at www.straphangers.org/reports.html, as can our profiles.

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


1 New York City Residents’ Perceptions of New York City Transit Service, 1999 Citywide Survey, prepared for MTA New York City Transit.

2 The measures are: frequency of scheduled service; how regularly trains arrive; delays due to car mechanical problems; chance to get a seat at peak period; car cleanliness; and in-car announcements.  Regularity of service is the measure of gaps in service or bunching together of trains.

3 We derived the MetroCard Ratings with the help of independent transportation experts.  Descriptions of the methodology can be found in Section II and Appendix I.  The rating was developed in two steps.  First, we decided how much weight to give each of the six measures of transit service.  Then we placed each line on a scale that permits fair and consistent comparisons.  Under a formula we derived, a line whose performance fell exactly at the average in this baseline would receive a MetroCard rating of $1.00 in this report.  Any line at the 95th percentile of this range would receive a rating of $2.00, the current base fare.

4 We were unable to give an overall MetroCard Rating to the system’s three permanent shuttle lines—the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, the Rockaway Park Shuttle, and the Times Square Shuttle—because data is not available.

5 We did not issue a report 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.

6 We were unable to compare two of the six measures with past years: scheduled frequency of service and crowding.  Changes in New York City Transit methodology prevented comparisons with past year’s service frequency. In general, this measure has stayed relatively static over the years. In addition, part of the period for crowding data was affected by the extensive route changes following the opening of the Manhattan Bridge to subway service in February 2004.

7 For some measures, small differences in rounding scores explain the first- and last-place rankings.

8  New York City Transit does not include G line passenger counts in its annual Cordon Count, as the G is the only one of the twenty two major lines not to enter Manhattan’s central business district.  For this reason, Straphangers Campaign conducted its own study of peak loading patterns on the G.  For more details, see methodology.