I. Findings

What do subway riders want?

They want short waits, trains that arrive regularly, a chance for a seat, a clean car and understandable 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 these 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 all or the last half of 2005.

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”3 to each of the 22 lines. 4

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.

This is the ninth Subway Report Card issued by the Straphangers Campaign since 1996. 5 And this is the first time we have been able to give the G line a MetroCard rating, which we were able to do by making our own observations of crowding at the peak period.

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 for the third year in a row, with a “MetroCard Rating” of $1.40. The 6 ranked high because of its frequently scheduled service and it also performs above average on four of the other measures: arriving with more regularity, fewer car breakdowns and dirty cars, and better announcements, where it had a near perfect record. The line did not get a higher rating because it performed below average on one measure: a chance of getting a seat during rush hours. This is the third time in a row that the 6 line has ranked first in the Straphangers Campaign Report Card. The top performance is due in large 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 N and W tied for the worst subway line, both with a MetroCard Rating of 75 cents. The N and W lines both have a low level of scheduled service. The N performs below average on three other measures: seat availability, arriving with regularity and announcements. The N line did not receive a lower rating because its cars break down slightly less often than the system average. The N was also the worst performing line in our 2004 and 2005 reports. This is the first time the W came in last. The W performs below average on three measures in addition to frequency of service. These are breakdowns, seat availability, and announcements. It performed above average on cleanliness. The W line operates between Astoria, Queens and downtown Manhattan; the N runs between Astoria and Coney Island.

3. Overall, we found a mixed picture for subway service. On the plus side, we found that car breakdowns were on the right track, improving between our 2005 and 2006 reports. But the regularity of arrivals and cleanliness went into reverse — both slightly worsening — while announcements remained unchanged. (We were unable to compare the remaining two measures.):6

  • The car fleet breakdown rate improved from an average mechanical failure every 156,815 miles in our 2005 report to 178,085 in our 2006 report. This is an ongoing trend as new technology cars come on line. We found that: thirteen lines improved (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, B, F, G, J/Z, M, N, R and V) and nine lines worsened (5, 7, A, C, D, E, L, Q and W).
  • Subway cars arrived with less regularity, going down from 88% regular arrivals during the daytime in 2005 to 87% in 2006. We found that: four lines improved (4, D, F, Q), twelve worsened (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, A, C, E, G, M, N, V) and six remained unchanged (7, B, J/Z, L, R, and W).
  • Subway cars became less clean, going down from 81% in 2005 to 79% in our 2006 report. We found that: eight lines improved (2, 6, A, C, D, L, M, and N) and fourteen worsened (1, 3, 4, 5, 7, B, E, F, G, J/Z, Q, R, V, and W).
  • Accurate and understandable announcements remained unchanged at 90% between our 2005 and 2006 reports. We found that: eight lines improved (3, 7, A, B, C, F, L, and N), eleven worsened (1, 2, 5, 6, D, J/Z, M, Q, R, V, and W) and three remained unchanged (4, E and G).
4. There are great disparities in how subway lines perform. 7
  • Breakdowns: Cars on the 5 had the best record on delays caused by car mechanical failures: once every 353,904 miles. Cars on the G line had the worst, experiencing breakdown delays more than four times as often: once every 81,095 miles.
  • Cleanliness: The 2 and C tied for the cleanest line, with only 10% of their cars having moderate or heavy dirt, while 45% of cars on the dirtiest line — the 7 — 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 V line, where riders had a 91% chance of getting a seat during rush hour. The 5 ranked worst and was much more overcrowded, with riders having only a 31% chance of getting a seat.
  • Amount of scheduled service: The 6 and the 7 lines had the most scheduled service, with two-and-a-half minute intervals between trains during the morning rush hour. The W ranked worst, with ten-minute intervals between trains all day.
  • Regularity of service: The J/Z line had the greatest regularity of service, arriving within two to four minutes of their scheduled interval 92% of the time. The most irregular line is the 2, which performed with regularity only 79% of the time.
  • In-car announcements: The 2, 5 and 6 lines had the highest rate of adequate announcements made in its subway cars, 99% of the time. The J/Z was the worst, at 78%.

All the findings described above are detailed in the attached charts and profiles:
Chart One lists the MetroCard Ratings for 22 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.

Following the charts are 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 from the second half of 2005. Several of the data items have not been publicly released before on a line-by-line basis. In addition, Straphangers Campaign conducted its own rider count on G line cars so that for the first time the G line could be included in this report.

We then calculated a MetroCard Rating—intended as a shorthand tool to allow comparisons among lines—for 22 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%
• 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 this rating period.

A line equaling the system best in 2005 would receive a score of 100 for that indicator, while a line matching the system low in 2005 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 best and worst
in system for 5 indicators
4 line score out of 100 Percentage weight 4 line
adjusted raw score
Scheduled service AM rush—4 min; midday—5 min; PM rush—4 min 83 30% 25
Service regularity 88% (best—92%; worst—79%) 68 22.50% 15
Breakdown rate 340,176 miles (best—353,904 miles; worst—81,095 miles) 95 12.50% 12
Crowding 32% seated (best—91%; worst—31%) 3 15% 0
Cleanliness 72% clean (best—90%; worst—55%) 49 10% 5
Announcements 97% adequate (best—99%; worst—78%) 90 10% 9
Adjusted score total 4 line—66 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 scoring, on average, at the 50th percentile of the lines in 2005 for all six performance measures would receive a MetroCard Rating of $1.00. A line which matched the 95th percentile of this range would be rated $2.00. 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 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005, transit officials made changes in how the performance indicators are measured. 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, in this report we were forced to redefine our baseline with 2005 data, and considerable historical comparability was lost.

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. The MTA has, unfortunately, opposed posting such information at train stations 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 data on its website, www.mta.info. However, none of this information is broken down by line.

Second, our Report Cards provide a picture of where the subways are headed. This Report Card paints a mixed picture overall: Subway cars break down far less, but are dirtier and arrive with less regularity, and have not shown improvement in making better announcements.

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. Continued progress will be a challenge. The MTA is struggling to obtain all the planned funding for its rebuilding program, including realizing $1 billion dollars from the sale of its assets, such as its valuable Manhattan rail yards.

Lastly, we aim to give communities the information they need to win better service. We often hear from riders and neighborhood groups. They will say, “Our line has got to be worst.” Or “We must be on the most crowded.” 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 — including on some of the lines we found the worst — win improvements, such as on the B, N and 5 lines.

For those on better lines, the report can highlight areas for improvement. For example, riders on the 7 — once the best in the system — have pointed to declines and won increased service.

This report is part of a series of studies on subway and bus service. For example, we issue annual surveys on payphone service in the subways, subway car cleanliness, and subway car announcements, as well give out the Pokey Awards for the slowest city bus routes.

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

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

www.straphangers.org | www.nypirg.org