State of the Subways Report Card--NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign ................................................................................

State of the Subways Report Card


News Release

I. Findings
Chart One: Straphangers Campaign Line Ratings
Chart Two: How Does Your Subway Line Rate?
Chart Three: Best to Worst Subway Lines by Indicator
Chart Four: Line Ratings, 1997-2000

II. Summary of Methodology

III. Why a Report Card on the State of the Subways?

IV. Profiles of 20 Subway Lines

V. Appendix

I. Findings

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. That’s what MTA New York City Transit’s 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 city’s 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 York’s subways are doing:

1. For the fourth year in a row, the best subway line is the 7—with 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.

2. The worst subway line is the 5—with a Line Rating of 60 cents. This is the first time in the four-year history of the report card that a numbered line—known as the IRT or "A" Division—came in last. It replaced the A, B, and M as the worst lines since our last report. The 5 line performed below average on four measures: regularity of service; chances of getting a seat during rush hour; hearing adequate subway car announcements and car break downs. The 5 line did not receive a lower rating because it has more scheduled service and its cars are cleaner than the system average. The line operates between the northern Bronx and Flatbush, Brooklyn during rush hours; it terminates at Bowling Green in Manhattan mid-days, evenings and weekends.

3. The overall picture for the subways is mixed: Line Ratings improved for seven of 19 subway lines; ratings declined on six; and stayed the same on six. The seven lines with better ratings are the: A, B, D, J/Z, M, Q and R. The six lines with worse ratings are the: 1/9, 2, 4, 5, C and N. The six unchanged lines are the: 3, 6, 7, E, F, and L. This is better than last year’s report card, where nine of 19 lines grew worse and only three improved.

4. The subways grew more crowded in the last year. A rider’s chance of getting a seat during the most crowded rush-hour point dropped from 31% to 28%. Twelve lines grew more crowded: 1/9, 3, 5, 6, 7, A, C, D, E, L, N and Q. Six lines grew less crowded: 2, B, F, J/Z, M, and R. The 4 line was unchanged; and crowding data is not available for the G line. It is not surprising that crowding has gotten worse. As of February 2000, there were 630,000 more riders using the subways each weekday compared to February 1997. That’s a 17% increase in ridership in three years. But it has been matched by only a 4% increase in service.

5. There has been no improvement in scheduled times between trains during rush hours, despite a massive increase in ridership. We did find a slight improvement at midday. A small increase in overall subway service has yielded little or no change in "headways"— the scheduled intervals between trains. We found that the average scheduled time between trains during morning rush hour remained at 6 minutes and 6 seconds; the average evening rush-hour at 6 minutes and 36 seconds. The average noon-time "headways" improved by 18 seconds: the average scheduled interval at noon weekdays improving from every 9 minutes and 12 seconds in December 1998 to every 8 minutes and 54 seconds as of December 1999.

6. Results for the passenger environment were mixed: Subway cars grew significantly cleaner in the last year, but announcements were slightly poorer. Both mirror trends found in independent surveys by the Straphangers Campaign:

  • Cleanliness: Sixteen of 20 routes grew cleaner; four grew dirtier. System-wide, the percentage of subway cars with clean seats and floors increased from 59% to 75%. The 16 cleaner lines are the: 1/9, 2, 5, 7, A, B, D, E, F, G, J/Z, L, M, N, Q, and R. The four lines that were dirtier are the: 3, 4, 6, and C. This improvement comes after transit officials restored more than two hundred subway car cleaners that had been cut in 1994.
  • Announcements: Eleven of 20 lines provided fewer correct and understandable announcements; eight improved on announcements; one stayed the same. System-wide, the percentage of cars with correct and understandable announcements declined slightly, from 61% to 60%. The 11 lines with poorer announcements are: 1/9, 2, 4, 5, 6, B, C, E, F, G, and R. The eight improved lines are the: 7, A, D, J/Z, L, M, N, and Q. The 3 line remained unchanged.

7. Measures of reliability were mixed: Subway cars broke down less often, but the regularity of service worsened slightly:

  • Breakdowns: Sixteen of 20 lines experienced fewer delays due to mechanical problems; four lines had a greater breakdown rate. The improved lines are the: 1/9, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, A, D, E, F, G, J/Z, L, M, Q, and R. The lines with more breakdowns are the: 5, B, C, and N.
  • Regularity: Eleven of 20 lines grew more irregular, with more gaps in service and bunching; eight improved; and one stayed the same. The 11 lines which grew worse on this measure are: 1/9, 2, 5, 7, B, E, F, J/Z, L, N, and R. The eight improved lines were the: 4, 6, A, C, D, G, M and Q. The 3 line remained unchanged.

8. The most improved line is the M, which was tied for the worst line in last year’s survey. Its Line Rating went from 65 cents to 85 cents. The M showed improvement on five measures: greater regularity, a lower car breakdown rate, less crowding, cleaner cars, and better announcements. The last measure— amount of service—did not change. (Indeed, transit officials proposed in June 2000 to reduce rush hour service on the line.)

9. Three lines—the 5, C and N—had the biggest drops in performance: The line rating for the 5 line declined from 70 cents to a 60-cent rating; the C line dropped from 75 cents to 65 cents; and the N line declined from 80 cents to 70 cents. All three lines broke down more often. The 5 line also arrived more irregularly, was more crowded and provided poorer announcements. The C line was more crowded, was dirtier and provided poorer announcements. The N line arrived more irregularly and was more crowded.

10. There are great disparities in how subway lines perform. For example, the 4 had the best record on delays caused by car mechanical failures: once every 163,227 miles. The R line had the worst, experiencing breakdown delays nearly three times as often: once every 56,852 miles. The same wide disparities among lines could be seen for all our measures:

  • Cleanliness: The N was the cleanest line, with 4% of its cars having moderate or heavy dirt, while 55% of cars on the 3, the dirtiest line, had moderate or heavy dirt—a huge and indefensible range.
  • 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 B, where riders had a 44% chance of getting a seat. The N ranked worst, where riders had only a 18% chance of getting a seat.
  • Amount of scheduled service: The 6 has the most scheduled service, with 3 minute intervals between trains during rush hours and 4 minutes during midday. Of the 19 lines we give line ratings, the C ranks worst, with 9 to 10 minute intervals between trains during these time periods. (The G provides even less service, with scheduled intervals of 10 minutes. It was not given a rating because of non-comparable data on crowding.)
  • Regularity of service: For the third year in a row, the line with the greatest regularity of service is the M. It stuck to its scheduled intervals of service 90% of the time; the line experiences significant gaps in service or bunching of trains only 10% of the time. The least regular lines are the 1/9 and 6, which performed with regularity only 64% of the time.
  • In-car announcements: The A and Q lines had the highest rate of adequate announcements made in its subway cars, 85%. The 5 was the worst, at a dismal 22%. Riders are nearly four times as likely to hear an adequate in-car announcement on the A and Q as they are on the 5.

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

  • scheduled amount of service 30%
  • Dependability of service
  • percent of trains arriving at regular intervals 22.5%
  • breakdown rate 12.5%
  • Comfort/usability
  • chance of getting a seat 15%
  • interior cleanliness 10%
  • adequacy of in-car announcements 10%
  • Second, we compared each line’s 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.

    Figure 1

    4 line value

    4 line score


    4 line


    including best and worst in system

    out of 100


    adjusted score

    Scheduled service

    AM rush–4 min; midday–6 min; PM rush–4 min




    Service regularity

    69% (best–90%; worst–64%)




    Breakdown rate

    163,227 miles (4 line is best; worst–56,852 miles)





    27% seated (best–44%; worst–18%)





    54% clean (best–96%; worst–45%)





    55% adequate (best–85%; worst–22%)




    Adjusted score total

    Best–78 pts–7 line; Worst–36 pts–5 line

    4 train–61 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. (A copy of the scale can be found in Appendix I.)

    Finally, we converted each line’s 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 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

    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. That’s 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 station’s 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 rider’s 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.

    It’s not surprising that there’s 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 system’s 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 Transit’s published "loading guidelines."

    Consider that three square feet is a tight square measuring 1.7 feet on each side. That’s why many times riders are traveling with someone’s elbow in their ribs. And several lines don’t 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. That’s 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 coalition’s 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 they’ll 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 city’s 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,

    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 efforts—combined with the concern and activism of many thousands of city transit riders—will win better subways and buses for New York City. |