I. Findings


(click your line!)

1 A J/Z
2 B L
3 C M
4 D N
5 E Q
6 F R
7 G

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 rider satisfaction measures.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 20 major subway lines using recent data compiled by MTA New York City Transit.2 Some 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 2014.

Our Report Card has three parts:

First, a comparison of service on 20 lines as detailed in the attached tables.

Second, we give an overall "MetroCard Rating"3 to 19 of the 20 major lines.4

Third, the report contains one-page profiles on each of the 20 lines. These are intended to provide riders, officials and communities with an easy-to-use summary of how their line performs compared to others.

This is the seventeenth Subway Report Card by the Straphangers Campaign since 1997.5

Our findings show the following picture of how New York City's subways are doing:

1. The best subway line in the City was the 7 with a MetroCard Rating of $2.15. The 7 was ranked number one for the second year in a row and for the eighth time out of our seventeen State of the Subways report cards. The 7 ranked highest because it was the best in the system on frequency of service and subway car cleanliness - and also performed above average on two other measures: delays caused by mechanical breakdowns and seat availability at the most crowded point during rush hour. The line did not get a higher rating because it performed below average on regularity of service and subway car announcements. The 7 runs between Times Square and Flushing-Main Street in Queens.

2. The 5 and the B tied as the worst performers in the subway system, with a MetroCard Rating of $1.45 each.

a) The 5 performed with the worst regularity of service and was below average on two other measures: delays caused by mechanical breakdowns and seat availability during rush hour. The line did not get a lower rating as it tied for best in the system on subway car announcements and performed near average on frequency of scheduled service and subway car cleanliness. The 5 operates between Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn College in Brooklyn and Eastchester-Dyre Avenue in the Bronx.

b)The B performed below average on three measures: amount of scheduled service; delays caused by mechanical breakdowns; and subway car announcements. The line did not get a lower rating as it performed at the system average on subway car cleanliness; and above average on regularity of service and seat availability during rush hour. The B operates between Brighton Beach in Brooklyn and 145th Street in Manhattan or Bedford Park Boulevard in the Bronx.

3. Systemwide, for 20 lines, we found the following on three of the six measures we can compare over time: car breakdowns, car cleanliness and in-car announcements.

a) The car breakdown rate worsened from an average mechanical failure every 153,382 miles to every 141,202 miles comparing the 12-month period ending December 2013 to December 2014 - a loss of 7.9%. This continues a trend: In our 2014 report, we found an 11% increase in subway car breakdowns. We found that thirteen lines declined (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, A, B, D, F, M, N and Q), and seven improved (2, C, E, G, J/Z, L and R.

b) Subway cars rated clean remained unchanged at 92% in both our 2014 and 2015 reports. We found that eleven lines declined (1, 3, 5, A, C, F, J/Z, L, M, N and R); six improved (4, 6, 7, D, G and Q) and three remained unchanged (2, B and E).

c) Accurate and understandable subway car announcements declined very slightly, going from 92% in our last report to 91% in the current report - a decrease of 1.1%. We found six lines improved (4, 7, A, C, G and N), eight declined (3, 6, B, D, F, J/Z, Q and R) and six did not change (1, 2, 5, E, L and M).

4. There are large disparities in how subway lines perform.

a) Breakdowns: The E had the best record on delays caused by car mechanical failures: once every 577,045 miles. The C was worst, with a car breakdown rate nearly ten times higher: every 66,382 miles.

b) Cleanliness: The 7 line had nearly a perfect score at 98%. The dirtiest line - the L - had 13% of its cars rated moderately or heavily dirty.

c) 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 F, where riders had a 67% chance of getting a seat during rush hour at the most crowded point. The E ranked worst and was much more crowded, with riders having only a 28% chance of getting a seat, nearly three times worse.6

d) Amount of scheduled service: The 6 and 7 lines had the most scheduled service, with two-and-a-half minute intervals between trains during the morning rush hour. Several lines ranked at the bottom including the B, C and M, with nine- or ten-minute intervals between trains all through the day.

e) Regularity of service: The D, J/Z and L line had the greatest regularity of service, arriving within 25% of its scheduled interval 82% of the time. The most irregular line was the 5, which performed with regularity only 67% of the time.

f) Announcements: Five lines - the 2, 4, 5, E and N lines - had perfect performance for accurate and understandable announcements made in subway cars, missing no announcements and reflecting the automation of announcements. The B line was worst, missing or garbling announcements 23% of the time.

II. Summary of Methodology

The NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign reviewed extensive MTA New York City Transit data on the quality and quantity of service on 20 subway lines. We used the latest comparable data available, largely from 2014.7 Several of the data items have not been publicly released before on a line-by-line basis. MTA New York City Transit does not conduct a comparable rider count on the G line, which is the only major line not to go into Manhattan. As a result, we could not give the G line a MetroCard Rating, although we do issue a profile for the line.

We then calculated a MetroCard Rating - intended as a shorthand tool to allow comparisons among lines - for 19 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 service30%

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 2014 would receive a score of 100 for that indicator, while a line matching the system low in 2014 would receive a score of 0. Under this rating scale, a small difference in performance between two lines translates to a small difference between scores.

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


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, 30 sec;
noon-7 min, 30 sec;
PM rush-4 min, 24 sec




Service regularity

71% (best-82%; worst-67%)




Breakdown rate

119,138 miles (best-577,045 miles; worst-66,382 miles)





34% seated (best-67%; worst-28%)





92% clean (best-98%; worst-87%)





100% adequate (best-100%; worst-77%)




Adjusted score total

4 line-45 pts.
(after round.)

Third, the summed totals were then placed on a scale that 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 for all six measures would receive a MetroCard Rating of $1.75. A line that matched the 90th percentile of this range would be rated $2.75, the current base fare. The 4 line, as shown above, falls at a weighted 45th percentile over six measures, corresponding to a MetroCard Rating of $1.65.

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 five 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, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014, transit officials made changes in how performance indicators are measured and/or reported. Transit officials 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 current data, and considerable historical comparability was lost.

Also due to changes in the measuring and/or reporting of data by Transit officials, it was necessary to make modest adjustments to the MetroCard Rating calculation and scale-as was the case in several earlier State of the Subways reports. In selecting this scale we attempted to create a single measure which we felt accurately and fairly represents the relative performance priorities listed in our original 1996 poll of riders, community leaders and independent transit experts.


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, especially for their line. Our profiles seek to provide this information in a simple and accessible form. Our profiles have pressed NYC Transit to do likewise.

In recent years, the MTA has gone forward and backward on providing detailed performance measures on a line-by-line basis.

For example, in 2011, when current MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast was the President of New York City Transit, he created a "key performance indicator." The KPI is a line-by-line composite that evaluates three basic measures of service. Unfortunately, the KPI has not caught on, as the measure does not allow for meaningful comparisons and is not easily understood.

In 2009, the MTA began posting monthly performance data for subway car breakdowns by each of the 20 subway lines. However, sometime in 2013, the MTA stopped reporting this information, saying they found the blended measure inaccurate. It was not replaced.

Our Report Card has coincided with an uptick in the public's desire for "transparency" in government. The MTA's "big data" - on-time service, for example - allows for complex analyses only recently possible. Unfortunately, these transparency initiatives move slowly. For example, in four years we have not succeeded in getting data on the nature of transit riders' complaints. The Straphangers Campaign believes that should change.

Second, our report card provides a picture of how the subways are doing. Riders can consult our profiles and ratings and see how their subway line compares to others. For example, this report warns riders of the steady deterioration of subway car breakdown rates. Future performance will be a challenge given the MTA's tight budget. We will be watching.

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 have the most crowded trains;" 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 advocate.

Our reports can be found online at www.straphangers.org, 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.

1 New York City Residents' Perceptions of New York City Transit Service, 1999 Citywide Survey, prepared for MTA New York City Transit.

2 The measures are: frequency of scheduled service; how regularly trains arrive; delays due to car mechanical problems; chance to get a seat at peak period; car cleanliness; and in-car announcements. Regularity of service is reported in an indicator called wait assessment, a measure of gaps in service or bunching together of trains.

3 We derived the MetroCard Ratings with the help of independent transportation experts. Descriptions of the methodology can be found in Section II and Appendix I. The rating was developed in two steps. First, we decided how much weight to give each of the six measures of transit service. Then we placed each line on a scale that permits fair comparisons. Under a formula we derived, a line whose performance fell exactly at the 50th percentile in this baseline would receive a MetroCard rating of $1.75 in this report. Any line at the 90th percentile of this range would receive a rating of $2.75, the current base fare.

4 We were unable to give an overall MetroCard Rating to the system's three permanent shuttle lines - the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, the Rockaway Park Shuttle, and the Times Square Shuttle - because data is not available. The G line does not receive a MetroCard Rating, as reliable data on crowding for that line is not available.

5 No Report Card was issued in 2013 given concerns about the impact of Superstorm Sandy on the subway system. That was also the case in 2002 following the attack on the World Trade Center. As a result, the Straphangers Campaign has issued subway Report Cards seventeen times in nineteen years.

6 The most recent crowding data available is drawn from New York City Transit's Year 2013 Cordon Count. Crowding conditions listed above may not accurately reflect patterns observed as of the printing of this report.

7 See Appendix I for a complete list of MTA New York City Transit data cited in this report.