A summary of the report's findings appears below.


Riders want timely and useful information while traveling the subways. With that in mind, the Straphangers Campaign recruited 77 volunteers to rate the quality of subway car announcements. Our volunteers made more than 5,300 observations of opportunities to make car announcements on 17 subway lines between November 10, 1997 and February 16, 1998. Surveyors noted whether required announcements were made to explain delays and re-routings, as well as basic announcements of the names of upcoming stations and transfer information.

This report is a follow-up to a survey we conducted in fall 1996, which found a "disappointing"level of performance. In the wake of that survey, transit officials set up a task force "to focus on train announcements, especially those that are made when there is a service change or delay." This follow-up survey--titled "Say What?"--found:

  1. The subway system continues to do a poor job of announcing delays and changes in service. We found that in two out of every three delays and re-routings (67%) experienced by our surveyors, there was either no announcement or one that was useless, garbled or inaudible. There's been no improvement since our fall 1996 survey. Then we also found 67% of the time either no announcement or one that was useless, garbled or inaudible.

  2. The good news is that clear, audible announcements of a delay or re-routing were made two-thirds of the time. The bad news: fully half of these were not useful. All too often, our raters heard useless announcements such as "We have a red signal"rather than a reason for the delay. Or they were told: "We're going out of service"without any explanation why. Again there was no improvement: In our fall 1996 survey, we also found that just over half of the clear and audible announcements were useful. (Transit officials disagree with our rating of certain kinds of announcements as "not useful." For example, we rate "This train being held by supervision"as not useful. We believe riders should get the reason the train isn't moving. Transit officials, however, consider this announcement as acceptable.)

  3. Our raters did not receive required announcements of station names and transfer points for nearly half--46%--of their trips. Either no announcement was made (29%) or announcements were garbled or inaudible (17%.) (Because of a change in methodology on this systemwide measure, it isn't possible to compare this finding with our fall 1996 survey.)

  4. We found poorer performance on basic announcements on station names and transfer points than did an official survey by New York City Transit. Officials conduct a respected quarterly "Passenger Environment Survey (PES), using a somewhat different standard in rating announcements. For the last three months of 1997, the PES found that basic announcements were made correctly and understandably 75% of the time; we found only 54% of the basic announcements to be audible and understandable. (In our fall 1996 survey, our findings were closer to those in the PES.)

  5. The #2 line performed worst in making basic announcements on stations and transfers, while the B train performed best--with the #2 performing half as well as the B. Our raters received no basic announcements or a garbled or inaudible announcement 67% of the time on the #2 line compared to 33% of the time on the B.

  6. Performance in making basic announcements deteriorated on 10 subway lines since our survey a year ago. These were the #2, #3, #5, #7, A, D, F, L, G, and N. Only one improved significantly--the #6, which was the worst in our last survey. Performance on five lines did not change significantly--the #1/9, #4, C, E and R. (One line--the B--was not included in the fall 1996 survey, but is here.)

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