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Subway riders have a renewed sense of the importance of working phones in the subways in the wake of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. With that in mind the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign deployed 6 surveyors between June 18th and August 8th, 2001 to rate the quality of 1264 payphones in 115 subway stations. Surveyors deemed payphones non-functioning if the handset was missing or unusable; there was no dial tone; surveyors were unable to connect to each of 411, 555-1212, and 0; the coin slot was blocked; coins deposited did not register; or the telephone would not return a coin if no call was connected.

This report is a follow-up to two previous surveys: a February 1999 survey tested payphones in 100 randomly-selected subway stations; in December 2000, the campaign tested payphones in the 25 most-used subway stations. The surveys this year found the following:

Survey of Payphones in 100 Randomly Selected Stations

1. One in five payphones in the city's subway stations don't fully work. According to a survey of 884 telephones at 100 randomly selected stations. This represents an improvement from an identical survey released in February 1999, which found one in four payphones to be non-functioning. But the 80% working rate falls far short of Verizon's contracted pledge to have 95% of subway phones "fully operative."

Verizon officials have told us that some of the phones we rated as not working may have been ones affected by station rehabilitation work by the MTA and thus not their fault. Similarly, some phones may have been former credit card phones in the midst of replacement.

2. The survey also found that Bronx and Brooklyn phones performed far worse than those in Manhattan and Queens. We found that 28% of Bronx payphones and 27% of Brooklyn payphones were found non-functional as compared to 16% in both Queens in Manhattan. This difference in performance is statistically significant (see Chart One and Methodology).

Survey of Payphones in 25 Busiest Stations

3. There was little change in the level of working payphones from year to year. We found that 81% of phones functioned this year in comparison to 82% in 2000. See table 1.

4. The best station -- with 100% working phones -- was 34th Street/8th Ave Penn Station (A, C, E); the worst station - with only 50% working phones -- was 77th Street/Lexington Ave (6);

5. The most improved was 86th Street/Lexington (6), which went from 50% working phones in 2000 to 83% in 2001; and the most deteriorated station was 77th Street/Lexington (6), which went from 88% working phones in 2000 to 50% in 2001.

6. The leading reason for payphones not working in both surveys combined was no dial tone. (See Chart Two for breakdown of reasons why all 1,264 phones surveyed were rated as not working.)

chart 1 | chart 2 | table 1 | methodology

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