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A Survey of Subway Car Announcements
NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign • Summer 2001


iders want timely and useful information while traveling the subways. They don’t want to be left in the dark during delays or miss a stop because of a poor announcement—or none at all.

With these desires in mind, the Straphangers Campaign recruited 51 volunteers to rate the quality of subway car announcements. Our volunteers made 6,000 observations of opportunities to make car announcements on 20 subway lines between February 26, 2001 and June 1, 2001. Surveyors noted whether required announcements were made to explain delays and re-routings, as well as basic announcements of the names of stations and transfer points. (A description of our methodology is attached, along with supporting tables.)

This report is a follow-up to four past announcement surveys released between 1997 and 2000. Our first survey found a "disappointing" performance. In 1997, transit officials responded by promising "to focus on train announcements, especially those that are made when there is a service change or delay." Our follow-up surveys found continued poor performance in both basic announcements and announcements of delays and disruptions. This fifth survey found significant improvement in basic announcements but continued poor delay and disruption announcements:

  1. Basic information announcements—giving the name of upcoming stations and transfer points—improved significantly on 17 of 18 subway lines between 1999 and 2001.
  2. For all lines combined, adequate basic announcements increased from 47% in 1999 to 69% in 2001. Of the 31% rated inadequate, no basic announcement was made at all 34% of the time and announcements were garbled or inaudible 66% of the time.
  3. The 3 line performed best in making basic announcements, while the 2 line performed worst. Our raters received basic announcements that were clear, ungarbled and audible 81% of the time on the 3 compared to 54% of the time on the 2.
  4. The most improved line for basic announcements was the L. The line went from 35% adequate basic announcements in our last comparable survey in 1999 to 72% adequate in this survey. No line deteriorated, although the improvement in one—the R—was not statistically significant. Two lines of the 20 lines—the J/Z and M—could not be compared.
  5. Eight out of every ten delays and re-routings experienced by surveyors (80%), there was either no announcement—or an inaudible, garbled or useless one. Of the 80% of delay and disruption announcements rated inadequate, 27% were not made at all; 16% were inaudible or garbled; and 57% were not useful, such as meaningless announcements that the "train is being held by supervision" or "we have a red signal."
  6. A survey by New York City Transit also found improving car announcements. The transit agency conducts a quarterly "Passenger Environment Survey (PES)," using a somewhat different standard. For the first three months of 2001, the PES found that basic announcements were made correctly and understandably 79% of the time. That’s up from 52% for the first three months of 1999. (The agency does not rate delay and disruption announcements.)

summary of findings  |  news release  |  methodology  |  table 1  |  table 2

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