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. Thats what MTA New York City Transits own polling of its riders show.
This fourth annual "State of the Subways" report card tells riders how their lines do on these key aspects of subway service. We look at six measures of subway performance for the citys 20 major subway lines, using recent data compiled by MTA New York City Transit, mostly for the last half of 1999. Much of this information has not been released publicly before on a line-by-line basis.
Our report card has three parts: First is a comparison of service on 20 lines, as detailed in the attached charts. Second, we give an overall "Line Rating" to each of 19 lines. 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 lines perform compared to others.
Our key findings present a mixed picture of how New Yorks subways are doing:
1. For the fourth year in a row, the best subway line is the 7with a "Line Rating" of $1.05. The line ranked high because there is much more scheduled service on the 7 than on most lines; riders have a greater chance of getting a seat at a peak period; its cars break down much less often than average; and it performed above average on in-car announcements. The line did not get a higher rating because it performed inconsistently on car cleanliness and regularity of service. Regularity is the measure of gaps in service or bunching together of trains. The 7 runs between Flushing, Queens and Times Square.
All the findings described above are detailed in the attached charts and profiles. Chart One lists the Line Ratings for 19 subway lines. The differences among lines are detailed in Chart Two.
Chart Three ranks lines from best to worst on each measure. Chart Four compares current Line Ratings with those of the previous three years. Following the charts are detailed one-page profiles for 20 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 20 subway lines. We used the latest data available for service, largely for the second half of 1999. Several of the data items have not been released before on a line-by-line basis. We then calculated a Line 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
Dependability of service
Second, we compared each lines performance in 1999 for each measure to the 1996 best- and worst-performing lines for each measure. Performance in 1996‚the first year for which we calculated Line Ratings‚serves as a baseline for service. As we stated in our 1997 report, Line 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."
A line in 1999 equaling the 1996 system best would receive a score of 100 for that indicator, while a 1999 line matching the system low would receive a score of 0. Thus, most lines in 1999 received a score between 0 and 100 for each measurement. However, in some cases a line was awarded a score outside of that range, if it performed better than the best line in 1996, or worse than the worst line.
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 the calculations for a line, in this case the 4 line.
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. (A copy of the scale can be found in Appendix I.)
Finally, we converted each lines summed raw score to a Straphangers Campaign Line Rating. We created a formula with assistance from independent transit experts. A line scoring on average, at the 50th percentile of 19 lines for all six performance measures in 1996 (the baseline year) would receive a Line Rating of 75˘. A line which matched the 95th percentile of this range would be rated $1.50.
Officials at MTA New York City Transit reviewed the line 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 routes 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
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 want information on the quality of their trips. Thats 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 stationsăeven 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." State legislation is pending in Albany to require posters at subway stations with statistics on how each stations line(s) are performing on basic measures of service. The bill passed the State Assembly this June, where it is sponsored by Assembly Members Catherine Nolan and Al Vann. The bill is sponsored in the State Senate by Frank Padavan. (See legislation and memo in support in Appendix II.) Unfortunately, the legislationăAssembly Bill 2236/Senate Bill 7107ăhas stalled. Officials at MTA New York City Transit oppose the bill. They say that "performance numbers are already available to our riders upon request or at regularly scheduled public meetings" and they do not support "the routine public posting of route specific performance measures throughout the transit system."
Second, we want to give a picture of where the subways are headed. Our findings tell a mixed story.
Line Ratings improved for seven of 19 subway lines; ratings declined on six; and stayed the same on six.
On the downside, the subways grew more crowded in the last year, with a riders chance of getting a seat worsening. Subway arrivals grew slightly more irregular and there has also been no improvement in scheduled times between trains during rush hours, despite a massive increase in ridership. And the quality of announcements worsened on a majority of lines.
On the plus side, subway cars broke down less often and they grew significantly cleaner in the last year, with 16 of 20 routes improving. And we did find a slight improvement in the length of scheduled waits during midday.
Its not surprising that theres more crowding. Transit service has lagged badly behind an explosive growth in both subway and bus ridership.
What would be a good, attractive level of service? The transit systems current standards for service are ungenerous. On some lines, constraints like the capacity of signal systems or the lack of available cars make even those standards unachievable.
The standard is for the system to provide standing passengers a minimum of three square feet during rush hour, according to MTA New York City Transits published "loading guidelines."
Consider that three square feet is a tight square measuring 1.7 feet on each side. Thats why many times riders are traveling with someones elbow in their ribs. And several lines dont meet the standard.
The guidelines also say that "seats will be provided for all customers" on most lines during weekday middays and evenings and on weekends. Much of the time this is simply untrue.
The Straphangers Campaign has called for a systemwide standard of no more than a four-minute scheduled wait during the rush hourăand to make good on their off-hours pledge.
Currently, riders on 10 of the 20 major subway lines have scheduled afternoon rush-hour waits of six minutes or more. That compares poorly with other world citiesălike Paris, Moscow, London and Tokyoăwhere trains come every one-and-a-half to four minutes during rush hour.
The Straphangers Campaign acknowledges that there are serious challenges in providing more attractive levels of service, such as the limits of old technology signal systems and the lack of availability of subway cars.
In the short run, there are many lines where service could be added now. Thats what transit officials should do. Costs are manageable; transit officials agreed with the assessment of the New York City Independent Budget Office that a city-wide four-minute headway for 90 minutes of the peak rush would cost between $30 and $40 million annually.
In the long run, the MTA should be making the capital investments that would permit more frequent service.
In the fall of 1999, the Empire State Transportation Allianceăa broad coalition of civic, business and labor groupsăcalled on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to buy 500 more subway cars than it planned. The coalitions goal was to get more subway cars to provide more service. Unfortunately, the MTA has not yet moved to increase its car purchases and it is moving slowly to modernize signals to allow trains to run closer together.
The Straphangers Campaign will continue to work with other groups and officials in turning around the mindset of transit officials on service levels.
Lastly, our report aims to help riders and communities win better service and hold transit managers accountable. At the Straphangers Campaign, we hear from many riders and neighborhood groups. Often theyll say "Our line has got to be the worst" or "We must be on the most crowded line" or "My 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. For those on better lines, the report will either highlight areas for improvementăor spark discussion on what constitutes decent service.
It is our hope that the thousands of New Yorkers who care about the citys transit system will use this report to hold transit managers accountable. That is why each of the profiles of 20 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 March of this year, we issued a major report on city buses. It found a poor quality of overall service and documented cuts on bus routes with growing ridership. In June, we issued a report critical of subway car announcements of delays and disruptions.
Our reports can be found at our web site, www.straphangers.org.
Our plans call for continuing to issue major state of the subways and buses reports in the coming years, along with field surveys of specific aspects of service, such as car cleanliness, announcements, and station conditions.
We hope that these effortscombined with the concern and activism of many thousands of city transit riderswill win better subways and buses for New York City.