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News Release

For Release:
Wednesday, March 2, 2005, 9:00 am
(for Thursday, March 3 papers)

For more information, contact:
Neysa Pranger at (212) 349 6460 or (917) 532-0567
or Michael Hernandez at (212-349-6460

One in Four Payphones Don’t Fully Work in Largest Subway Stations, Survey Finds

Best Station: Canal Street (6, J, M, N, Q, R, W and Z); Worst: 14th Street/Union Square (4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, R and W)

More than one in four payphones in New York City Transit subway stations do not fully work, according a survey released today by the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign.

In a survey of all 540 pay telephones in the 25 most-used New York City Transit subway stations, 27% were found to be “non-functioning,” with problems ranging from no dial tone to a blocked coin slot. 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 short of its pledge to have 95% of phones working,” said Neysa Pranger, coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign. “Riders need station payphones to keep in touch — especially during times of delay and emergency — when cell phones aren’t an option.”

This performance is a modest improvement to results of an identical study conducted by the Straphangers Campaign in 2002, which found 29% of payphones to be non-functioning. Yet 2004 payphones still lag far behind their performance of 19% non-functioning found in a 2001 survey. Other key findings of the survey — which was conducted between September 20 and December 22, 2004 (see attached Table One and Methodology) — include:

  • the best of the most-used stations — with 95% of payphones functioning — is Canal Street (6, J, M, N, Q, R, W and Z). This is the only station of the 25 most-used which attained the system-wide target of 95% mandated in the MTA-Verizon contract;
  • the worst of the most-used stations — with only 40% working phones — is 14th Street/Union Square (4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, R and W);
  • the most improved large station is 23 Street (6), which improved from 40% working payphones in 2002 to 82% this year;
  • the most deteriorated large station is 14 Street Union Square (4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, R and W) which fell from 73% functioning payphones to 40% in this survey;
  • Among the 24 subway stations common to the 2002 survey and this one, we found that payphone functioning rates improved in 14, grew worse in nine and remained unchanged in one (see attached Table Two).

Telephones were deemed non-functioning if the handset was missing or unusable; there was no dial tone; surveyors were unable to connect a call to a 1-800 number; the coin slot was blocked; coins deposited did not register; or the telephone would not return a coin.

In the survey of 540 phones at the 25 most-used subway stations, the leading reason for phones being rated as non-functioning was no dial tone (36%); followed by cannot connect to a 1-800 test number (20%); coin not returned (16%); coin not registering (14%); coin slot blocked (7%); and bad handset (7%). (See attached Chart One.)

Two regularly scheduled surveys conducted by or on behalf of the MTA found better levels of performance in 2004, noted Michael Hernandez, field organizer for the Straphangers Campaign. However, he noted that both surveys used different methodologies, which might explain the difference in findings.

For example, in its Passenger Environment Survey (PES) of the second half of 2004, New York City Transit’s Operations Planning department found 92% of subway pay telephones to be in working order. However, Hernandez noted this discrepancy might have arisen from two major differences between the PES and this survey. First, the PES draws its sample from the entire subway station population (468 stations) and does not restrict itself to the most-used stations. Second, these surveyors do not perform a coin drop to test the phones, rating telephones as functioning if the surveyor notes an undamaged handset and is able to contact a specific 800 test number.

Surveys conducted for the MTA by an independent contractor during the same time as the Campaign’s survey (September - December) found 82% of payphones to be functioning properly. The difference in results is likely due to the stations selected in each survey.

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.

methodology | table 1 | table 2 | chart 1


www.straphangers.org | www.nypirg.org