I. Findings

What do subway riders want?

They want short waits, regular and reliable service, a chance for a seat, a clean car and announcements that tell them what they need to know. That’s what MTA New York City Transit’s own polling of its riders show.1

This "State of the Subways" Report Card tells riders how their lines do on 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 the last half of 2003. Comparisons to prior years could not be made for two lines, the 1/9 and the 3.3 In addition, several lines had major route changes in February 2004, including the B, D, N, Q, and W. Comparisons were made for these lines, but it is important to note that the routes for these lines today are different from the time period we reviewed.4

Our Report Card has three parts:

First is a comparison of service on 22 lines, as detailed in the attached charts. Second, we give an overall “MetroCard Rating”5 to each of 21 lines.6
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 lines perform compared to others. These profiles can also be found at our web site: www.straphangers.org.
This is the seventh Subway Report Card issued by the Straphangers Campaign since 1996.7

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 6, with a “MetroCard Rating” of $1.65. The 6 ranked high because it is tied for first in frequently scheduled service and it performs above average on four other measures: arriving with regularity, car breakdowns, cleanliness and announcements. The line did not get a higher rating because it performed below average on chance of getting a seat during rush hours. This is the first time the 6 line has ranked first in the Straphangers Campaign Report Card since we began rating lines in 1996. The top performance is due in part to the new technology subway cars, which began replacing the line’s aging fleet in recent years. The 6 runs between Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and the Brooklyn Bridge subway station in lower Manhattan.

2. The worst subway line is the N*, with a MetroCard Rating of 80 cents. The N* line has a low level of scheduled service and it performs below average on four other measures: arriving with regularity, car breakdowns, seat availability and announcements. The N* line did not receive a lower rating because its cars are much cleaner than the system average. The N* was the next-to-worst performing line last year in the 2003 Straphangers Campaign Report Card, which rated service for the last six months of 2002. The N* line operates between Astoria, Queens and Gravesend, Brooklyn. (*During the period covered by this report — the last six months of 2003 — the N served downtown Manhattan, traveling through the Montague Street tunnel from downtown Brooklyn. Starting in late February 2004, the routing changed on the N and the line now bypasses downtown Manhattan, travelling over the Manhattan Bridge.)

3. Overall, subway cars are less crowded, cleaner, and provide better announcements than in 2002; they also break down less often. The regularity of service remained the same. 8 (These findings are detailed below.)

4. System-wide, the subways are less crowded since our last report. The chance of getting a seat during rush hour at a line’s most crowded point increased from 41% in fall 2001 to 44% in fall 2002 (this data is the most recent available).

  • Crowding decreased on 12 subway lines (4, 6, 7, B*, C, E, F, J/Z, M, Q*, R and W*), grew worse on four (2, A, L, and N*), remained unchanged on two (5 and D*) and could not be compared for four (1/9, 3, G, and V).9
    • The most improved line for crowding was the M. The line went up from a 47% chance of getting a seat during rush hour at the line’s most crowded point to a 66% chance, comparing data from the most recent available time periods.
    • The most deteriorated line for crowding was the 2. The line went down from a 41% chance of getting a seat during rush hour at the line’s most crowded point to a 35% chance, comparing data from the most recent available time periods.

5. System-wide, subway cars with clean seats and floors increased from 78% to 83%, comparing the last six months of 2002 to 2003. The improvement is more dramatic compared to our first report, which covered the last six months of 1996. At that time, we found only 70% of subway cars with clean seats and floors.

  • Car cleanliness improved on 14 subway lines (4, 5, 7, A, C, D*, E, F, G, J/Z, L, M, N* and Q*) and grew worse on five (2, B*, R, V and W*), remained unchanged on one (6) and could not be compared for two (1/9 and 3).
    • The most improved line for car cleanliness was the J/Z. The line went up from 60% cars with clean seats and floors to 86% between the last six months of 2002 to 2003.
    • The most deteriorated line for car cleanliness was the R. It went down from 82% clean cars to 70% between the last six months of 2002 to 2003.

6. System-wide, subway cars with accurate and understandable announcements increased from 87% to 88%, comparing the last six months of 2002 to 2003.

  • Despite the overall improvement, accurate and understandable car announcements improved on only six subway lines (2, 4, 5, L, R, and V), grew worse on 13 (6, 7, A, B*, C, D*, E, F, G, J/Z, M, N* and Q*), remained unchanged on one (W*) and could not be compared for two (1/9 and 3). However, most of the declines were moderate.
    • - The most improved line for car announcements was the 4. The line went up from 83% cars with accurate and understandable announcements to 95% between the last six months of 2002 to 2003.
    • - The most deteriorated line for car announcements was the J/Z. The line went down from 89% cars with accurate and understandable announcements to 76% between the last six months of 2002 to 2003.
7. System-wide, the regularity of service — how often trains arrive without bunching or gaps in service — remains unchanged at 88%.
    Regularity improved on five subway lines (4, 5, C, G and N*), grew worse on six (6, 7, E, Q*, R and V), nine remained unchanged (2, A, B*, D*, F, J/Z, L, M, and W*) and could not be compared for two (1/9 and 3). However, most of the declines were moderate.
    • The most improved line for regularity was the 4. The line went up from 81% of trains arriving without bunching or gaps in service to 89% between the last six months of 2002 to 2003.
    • The most deteriorated line for regularity was the V. The line went down from 90% of trains arriving without bunching or gaps in service to 86% between the last six months of 2002 to 2003.

8. MTA New York City Transit’s basic data indicate an ongoing trend of fewer breakdowns as new technology cars come on line: The December 2002 fleet-wide 12-month moving average breakdown rate was once every 114,619 miles and improved to 139,960 in 2003. However, this report cannot make a direct comparison for the subway car breakdown rate with past years due to a change in our methodology. (The report also cannot compare to past performance on scheduled frequency of service. For the differences in how these measures were calculated in 2002 and 2003, see section on methodology.)

9. There are great disparities in how subway lines perform.10

  • Breakdowns: The D* had the best record on delays caused by car mechanical failures: once every 448,404 miles. The G line had the worst, experiencing breakdown delays more than eight times as often: once every 53,331 miles.
  • Cleanliness: The E was the cleanest line, with only 4% of its cars having moderate or heavy dirt, while 30% of cars on the dirtiest line — R — had moderate or heavy dirt, a much worse performance.
  • 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 B* line, where riders had a 72% chance of getting a seat during rush hour. The L ranked worst and was much more overcrowded, with riders having only a 29% chance of getting a seat.
  • Amount of scheduled service: The 6 and 7 lines had the most scheduled service, with two to three minute intervals between trains during rush hours. The B* and M rank worst, with nine to ten minute intervals between trains during this period.
  • Regularity of service: The G line had the greatest regularity of service, arriving within two to four minutes of their scheduled interval 94% of the time. The most irregular line is the 5, which performed with regularity only 80% of the time.
  • In-car announcements: The 5 line had the highest rate of adequate announcements made in its subway cars, 100% of the time. The J/Z was the worst, at 76%.

All the findings described above are detailed in the attached charts and profiles:

Chart One lists the MetroCard Ratings for 21 subway lines.
Chart Two details the differences in performance on all six measures among 22 lines.
Chart Three ranks lines from best to worst on each measure.

Click here for detailed one-page profiles for 22 subway lines.


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 the second half of 2003. 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%
Comfort/usability
   • 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 2002.

A line equaling the system best in 2002 would receive a score of 100 for that indicator, while a line matching the system low in 2002 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
Indicator 4 line value including 2002
best and worst in system for four measures
4 line score
out of 100
Percentage
Weight
4 line
Adjusted Score
Scheduled service AM rush—4 min; midday—5 min; PM rush—4 min 102 30% 31
Service regularity 89% (2002 best—92%; worst—78%) 78 22.5% 18
Breakdown rate 171,756 miles 42 12.5% 5
Crowding 29% seated (2002 best—54%; worst—29%) 2 15% 0
Cleanliness 90% clean (2002 best—93%; worst—60%) 89 10% 9
Announcements 95% adequate (2002 best—98%; worst—82%) 79 10% 8
Adjusted score total


4 line—70 pts.

Third, the summed totals were then placed on a scale which 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 whose 2003 performance fell exactly at the 2002 average would receive a MetroCard rating of $1.00 in this report. Any line at the 95th percentile of 2002 scores would receive a rating of $2.00, the current base fare.

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, in May 2001, transit officials made major changes in how several of the performance indicators are derived. 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, some historical comparability has been lost.

This year, we were able to compare performance of lines for the last six months of 2002 to the last six months of 2003 on four of six measures: regularity of service, seat availability, cleanliness and announcements. One measure—car cleanliness—can still be compared back to 1996. This year, New York City Transit slightly modified the format of two remaining measures: amount of scheduled service and mean distance between failures. Because of this, we make no direct comparisons between 2002 and 2003 data on these indicators.


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. That’s what public opinion polls conducted by transit officials show. “Customers have an interest in knowing how their line, as well as the overall system, is doing,” according to an MTA New York City Transit telephone survey of 950 riders in 1998.

Indeed, the poll found that 55% of customers would like service information to be posted at subway stations—even when asked to weigh posting in the context of competing spending priorities. Riders expressed strong interest in getting such information as “how well the line keeps to schedules, how much service is scheduled and how well announcements are made.” The MTA has, unfortunately, opposed posting such information in past years. In part, our reports have filled this gap, especially the line-by-line profiles we post on our website.

In a step forward in June 2003, the MTA began posting its quarterly performance information on its website, www.mta.info. However, none of this information is broken down by line.

Second, our Report Cards provide an overall picture of where the subways are headed. This Report Card tells us an overall positive story: The subway cars are less crowded, cleaner, provide more accurate and understandable announcements and break down less.

The Straphangers Campaign congratulates the leadership of MTA New York City Transit for buying and putting into service new subway cars that perform well and for doing a strong job maintaining the existing fleet. We hope to see continue progress. However, that will be a challenge, as transit officials cope with a projected $544 million deficit in 2005 and at the same time seek a new round of funding for a 2005-2009 rebuilding program.

Lastly, we aim to give community groups and public officials the information they need to win better service and hold transit managers accountable. At the Straphangers Campaign, we hear from many riders and neighborhood groups. Often they will say “Our line has got to be the worst.” Or “We must be on the most crowded line.” 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 on some of the worst lines demand and win improvements, such as on the B, N and 5 lines.

For those on better lines, the report will either highlight areas for improvement—or spark discussion on what constitutes decent service. For example, riders on the 7 — once the best line in the system — have pointed to the line’s slipping and won increased service.

New Yorkers who care about the city’s transit system can use this report to hold transit managers accountable. That is why each of the profiles of 22 lines contains the telephone number for the superintendent responsible for that line.

This report is part of a series of studies on subway and bus service. For example, in February, we issued our annual survey on payphone service in the subways and on the commuter lines. In March, we released our annual report on subway car cleanliness. In May, we issued an analysis of how bus service levels were lagging behind a continued growth in ridership.

Our plans call for continuing to issue field surveys of specific aspects of subway service, such as car announcements, car cleanliness and station pay telephones. In the fall, we will also issue our annual Pokey Awards on the slowest bus routes in the city.

Our reports can be found at www.straphangers.org/reports.html.

We hope that these efforts—combined with the concern and activism of many thousands of city transit riders—will win better subways and buses for New York City.

www.straphangers.org | www.nypirg.org