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News Release

EMBARGOED for Release:
Wednesday, August 14, 2002
For more information, contact
Neysa Pranger at (212) 349 6460

One in Three Payphones in the Subways Don’t Fully Work, Surveys Find

Service Grows Worse in Past Year

Nearly one in three payphones in the city's subway stations doesn't fully work, according to two surveys released today by the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign.

In one survey of 789 telephones at 100 randomly selected subway stations, 31% were found to be “non-functioning,” with problems ranging from no dial tone to coin slot blocked. This represents a deterioration from the summer of 2001, when an identical campaign survey rated only one in five (20%) non-functioning. (There are 468 stations in the system.)

In a second survey, the campaign tested phones at the 25 most-used subway stations and found 29% of phones non-functioning. This is also worse than in the summer of 2001, when an identical survey found only one in five (19%) payphones to be non-functioning.

Verizon is under contract with MTA New York City Transit to guarantee 95% of phones to be "fully operative and in service at all times."

“We’re very disappointed that Verizon is falling even shorter of its pledge to have 95% of phones working,” said Neysa Pranger, coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign. "We know Verizon has faced major challenges post-9/11, but the riding public's desire for ways to stay in communication has also been heightened."

Verizon officials point out that technical staff working to service MTA payphones has dropped in the last year from 170 to 136. "It is essential Verizon reallocate it's resources now to reverse this downturn in the number of working payphones," added Pranger.

Both surveys were conducted between June 25th and July 17th, 2002. The differences in performance between the 2001 and 2002 surveys are statistically significant (see Tables One and Two).

Other findings about the most-used 25 stations include:

  • The best of the most-used stations for the second year in a row - with 100% working phones - is 34th Street/8th Ave Penn Station (A, C, E);
  • The worst most-used station - with only 38% working phones - is 23rd Street/Lexington Ave (6);
  • The most improved most-used station was 68th Street/Lexington (6) which went from 57% working phones in 2001 to 75% in 2002; and
  • The most deteriorated most-used station is 74th Street/Roosevelt Ave (7, E, F, G, R, V), which went from 79% working phones in 2001 to 51% in 2002.

Telephones were deemed non-functioning if the handset was missing or unusable; there was no dial tone; surveyors were unable to connect to any of 411, 555-1212, or 0; the coin slot was blocked; coins deposited did not register; or the telephone would not return a coin if no call was connected.

In the survey of 100 randomly chosen stations, the leading reason for phones being rated as non-functioning was no dial tone (32%), followed by coin not returned (26%); coin not registering (18%); coin slot blocked (13%); cannot call operator or information (6%); and bad handset (5%.) (See Chart One for breakdown of reasons why 244 of 789 phones surveyed at 100 randomly chosen stations were rated as non-functioning.)

A monthly audit conducted by a private company commissioned by the MTA found that 12% of telephones had "service-affecting troubles" during January to June 2002. One possible explanation for the difference between campaign survey results and the independent audit is the MTA’s survey does not test for the ability of the payphone to make an actual call to either information or another phone number.

The full report can be viewed at http://www.straphangers.org. 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.

Click here for Survey Methodology

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