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 shows.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 second half of 2007.

Our Report Card has three parts:

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

Second, we give an overall “MetroCard Rating”3 to 21 of the 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 line performs compared to others. These profiles can also be found on the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign website.

This is the eleventh Subway Report Card issued by the Straphangers Campaign since 1996.5


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

  1. The best subway line in the city is the L with a MetroCard Rating of $1.40. The L ranked highest because it performs best in the system on two measures—regularity of service and announcements—and well above average on three other measures: frequency of scheduled service, delays caused by mechanical breakdowns and the percentage of dirty cars. The line did not get a higher rating because it performed well below average on: a chance of getting a seat during rush hour. The L runs between 14th Street/Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and Canarsie in Brooklyn. The previous top-rated line—the 1—dropped to a fourth-place tie.
  1. The 7 came in second behind the L with a MetroCard Rating of $1.30. Both the 7 and L are in a pilot “Line General Managers” program, which appears to be benefiting riders. According to New York City Transit leadership: “the new positions will be responsible for virtually all elements of the day-to-day operations on both of these lines [and] will be given their own railroads and the responsibility for running them to the satisfaction of our customers.”6 The 7 performed above average on four measures: frequency of scheduled service, regularity of service, delays caused by mechanical breakdowns and chance of getting a seat during rush hour. The line did not get a higher rating because it performed below average on: the percentage of dirty cars and adequate announcements. The 7 runs between Times Square in Manhattan and Flushing, Queens.
  1. The W was ranked the worst subway line, with a MetroCard Rating of 70 cents. The W line has a low level of scheduled service and performs below average on four other measures: regularity of service, car breakdowns, car cleanliness and announcements. The W did not receive a lower rating because it performed above average on: a chance of getting a seat during rush hour. The W line operates between Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan and Astoria, Queens. In last year’s survey, the W tied for the worst line with the C.
  1. Overall, we found a weak showing for subway service. Car breakdowns worsened from a mechanical failure every 156,624 miles in 2006 to one every 149,646 miles in 2007. Subway car announcements deteriorated from 90% in the second half of 2006 to 85% in the second half of 2007. Two other measures showed no sign of improvement: regularity of arriving trains and car cleanliness. (We were unable to compare the remaining two measures.)
    • The car fleet breakdown rate worsened from an average mechanical failure every 156,624 miles in 2006 to every 149,646 miles in 2007. This is a troubling trend, raising questions about the condition and maintenance of the aging transit fleet. We found that: seventeen lines worsened (1, 4, 6, A, B, C, D, F, G, J/Z, L, M, N, Q, R, V and W), while just five lines improved (2, 3, 5, 7 and E).
    • Accurate and understandable subway car announcements worsened, going from 90% in the second half of 2006 to 85% in the second half of 2007. We found that: fifteen lines worsened (1, 3, 7, B, C, D, E, F, G, J/Z, M, Q, R, V and W) five lines improved (2, 4, A, L and N) and two remained unchanged (5 and 6).
    • Subway cars arrived with nearly identical regularity, with 87% regular arrivals during the daytime in our last report, to 86% in this report.7 We found that: thirteen lines got worse (1, 3, 4, A, B, D, E, F, G, M, N, V and W) and nine improved (2, 5, 6, 7, C, J/Z, L, Q and R).
    • Subway cars did not change on cleanliness, staying at 87% rated clean in both our last and current reports. We found: ten lines worsened (1, 5, B, D, E, G, M, N, R and W), ten improved (2, 3, 4, 7, A, C, F, J/Z, L and Q) and two did not change (6 and V).
  1. There are large disparities in how subway lines perform.8

    • Breakdowns: Cars on the Q had the best record on delays caused by car mechanical failures: once every 342,711 miles. Cars on the G line had the worst, experiencing breakdown delays more than five times as often: once every 67,044 miles. 
    • Cleanliness: The 3 was the cleanest line, with only 3% of its cars having moderate or heavy dirt, while 31% of cars on the dirtiest line—the G—had moderate or heavy dirt, a rate more than ten 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 Q line, where riders had a 58% chance of getting a seat during rush hour.9 The 2 and the 6 ranked worst and were much more crowded, with riders having only a 24% 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 during the day.
    • Regularity of service: The L and the J/Z lines had the greatest regularity of service, arriving within two to four minutes of its scheduled interval 92% of the time. The most irregular line is the 4, which performed with regularity only 78% of the time.
    • In-car announcements: The 2, 5 and L lines had a perfect performance for adequate announcements made in its subway cars, missing no announcements, reflecting the automation of announcements on these lines. In contrast, the B was the worst, missing announcements 29% of the time.

The full report can be found on the internet at www.straphangers.org.

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 2007.  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 21 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%
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 2007 would receive a score of 100 for that indicator, while a line matching the system low in 2007 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 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




 Service regularity

78% (best—92%; 4 line is worst)




 Breakdown rate

209,772 miles (best—342,711 miles; worst—67,044 miles)





31% seated (best—58%; worst—24%)





94% clean (best—97%; worst—69%)





99% adequate (best—100%; worst—71%)




Adjusted score total




4 line—52 pts10

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 2007 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, since 2001, transit officials made nearly annual 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 2007 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 website. 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. Overall, we found a weak showing for subway service. Car breakdowns worsened from a mechanical failure every 156,624 miles in 2006 to one every 149,646 miles in 2007. Subway car announcements deteriorated from 90% in the second half of 2006 to 85% in the second half of 2007. Two other measures showed no sign of improvement: regularity of arriving trains and car cleanliness. (We were unable to compare the remaining two measures.)

Continued progress will be a challenge. The MTA has just cut its current 2005 to 2009 capital program by $2.7 billion and is projecting a $500 million to $700 million operating deficit for 2009.

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 have the most crowded trains.” 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 to be 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 on our web site, www.straphangers.org, 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 reported in a indicator called wait assessment, a 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. The G line does not receive a MetroCard Rating as reliable data on crowding for that line 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 MTA NYC Transit Names Line General Managers For 7 and L, MTA New York City Transit Press Release, December 6, 2007. 

7 Before rounding, systemwide “wait assessment” fell from 86.6% in the second half of 2006, to 86.1% in the second half of 2007. Calculated by MTA New York City Transit, wait assessment is one measure of the regularity of arrival of trains.

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

9 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 22 major lines not to enter Manhattan’s central business district.

10 Sum calculated before rounding individual indicator scores.