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News Release

For Release:
Tuesday, February 10, 2004, 10:30 am
For more information, contact:
Neysa Pranger at (212) 349 6460


One in Four Payphones Don't Fully Work in MTA Subways, LIRR and Metro-North Stations, Survey Finds

Verizon Fails to Meet Promise That 95% of MTA Payphones Work

One in four payphones in MTA subway and commuter rail stations do not fully work, according a survey released today by the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign.

In the survey of 702 pay telephones at a total of 100 randomly selected Metropolitan Transportation Authority city subway and city/suburban commuter rail stations, 25% were found to be “non-functioning,” with problems ranging from no dial tone to a blocked coin slot.

Other key findings of the survey — which was conducted between August 1st, 2003 and January 23rd, 2004 (see attached methodology) — include:

  • Payphones in the subways performed more poorly than payphones at Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North stations combined. Some 27% of payphones in the subways were non-functioning, while only 17% of LIRR and Metro-North payphones combined were non-functioning.
  • Verizon is falling short of its pledge to have 95% of phones working. Under a contract between the MTA and Verizon, the company pledges that “95% of all public pay telephones and TDDs (TTYs) shall be fully operative and in service at all times.” The survey found, instead, 25% were non-functioning „five times the contractual service standard agreed to by Verizon.
  • Payphone service in the subways has not improved in the last year. A survey in 2002 found that 31% of payphones were non-functioning, while the 2003 survey found 27% non-functioning. Both year's differences are not statistically significant.
  • There are more non-functioning payphones in the subways in the Bronx (38%) and Queens (35%) than in Manhattan and Brooklyn (both 23%.) These differences are statistically significant.

“Verizon is falling short of its pledge to have 95% of phones working and that's bad news for riders who want to stay connected while using subways or commuter rail,” said Neysa Pranger, coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign. "The MTA needs to demand better performance."

The survey was conducted between August 1st, 2003 and January 23rd, 2004. (See Table Two for list of stations surveyed.)

Telephones were deemed non-functioning if the handset was missing or unusable; there was no dial tone; surveyors were unable to connect a call to a toll-free 800 number; the coin slot was blocked; coins deposited did not register; or the telephone would not return a coin.

In the survey of 702 phones at 100 randomly-chosen stations, the leading reason for phones being rated as non-functioning was no dial tone (38%); followed by coin not returned (24%); coin not registering (13%); coin slot blocked (11%); cannot connect a call (10%); and bad handset (5%). (See attached Chart One.)

The survey was conducted at 100 of 712 stations on the subways, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North. The 702 phones surveyed included 138 phones at 23 randomly-chosen stations on the Long Island Rail Road (out of a total of 124 LIRR stations); 37 phones at 13 randomly-chosen stations on Metro-North (out of a total of 120 Metro-North stations); and 527 phones at 64 randomly-chosen stations on MTA New York City Transit subway stations (out of a total of 468 subway stations).

Two regularly scheduled surveys conducted by or on behalf of the MTA found better levels of performance in 2003, said Pranger. However, she noted that both surveys used different methodologies, which might explain the difference in findings.

For example, a survey conducted for the MTA by an independent contractor in November 2003 found 87% of payphones to be functioning properly. However, the survey was conducted at only a small number of midtown subway stations.

Similarly, New York City Transit's Operations Planning Department found that 92% of payphones were functioning properly in the third quarter of 2003. However, these surveyors do not do a coin drop to test the phones, rating telephones as functioning if the surveyor notes an undamaged handset and is able to contact a specific 800 test number.

The survey work of the Straphangers Campaign is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a national leader in encouraging citizen-based assessment of public services.

methodology | table 1 | table 2 | chart 1

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