Home Rider Report Cards One year later, Report Card grades up a tick

One year later, Report Card grades up a tick

by Benjamin Kabak

When NYC Transit President Howard Roberts and I sat down to talk last month, I started off by asking him about the Rider Report Cards. As a pilot program, I thought they had a relatively successful debut. While the results weren’t surprising, they did help New York City Transit focus its priorities in its efforts at improving subway service.

As we discussed those initial results, I eventually asked him why he was engaging in a second round of report cards so soon after the first ones. While the 7 and L, with the pilot line manager program in place may show some improvement, I opined, would any of the other lines really see their grades go up? If anything, people are more disgruntled with the subways this year as they had to suffer through a fare hike with relatively few service increases.

In response, Roberts defended his Rider Report Card program. It’s a part of the new management system, he explained, that is responsive to the needs and wishes of the customers. Instead of operating in a top-down environment in which MTA officials dictate the needs of the subway, the customers get to express their views on the trains. While I wondered if New Yorkers would be willing to go through the process again, I believe that Roberts has a voice. By routinely asking people what they want and then responding to those desires, the NYC Transit is empowering its riders more than it ever has in the past.

Yesterday, the agency released its first set of results for the second round, and as expected, changes in the grades were minimal. The L, which last year pulled down a C, managed a C-plus this time while the 7 saw its grade stay steady from a C-minus to a C-minus. Small improvements to be sure, but improvements nonetheless.

For the most part, the individual trends were encouraging. The L train saw minimal delays (C in 2008, C- in 2007) and reasonable wait times (C+ in 2008, C in 2007) improve by a grade over 2007’s report cards. In fact, in no category did the L decline in performance. Still riders rate adequate room on board at rush, minimal delays during trips and reasonable wait times between trains as their top three priorities. Those rankings are unchanged.

On the 7 line, where the focus has been on cleanliness, the grades have risen. Trains are cleaner; announcements are easier to hear. But riders complained about more delays during trips (D+ in 2008, C- in 2007) and reasonable wait times between trains (C-minus in 2008, C in 2007). Delays, adequate room and reasonable wait times were the top three complaints.

These results are hardly a surprise, and it shows that NYC Transit still has a lot of work cut out for itself. But for now, it seems as though the Line Manager program is an early success. How far the grades can raise may depend on external forces — more money, updated technology that can allow for more trains, more subway lines — but what’s in place right now is working, albeit slowly and very, very incrementally.

As an interesting sidebar, numbers were way down, and the scientific validity of these samples still raise some eyebrows. For the 7 train, the MTA received only 4113 report cards, just 26 percent of 2007’s total, and on the L line, the agency 2216 cards, down about 45 percent from last year. The MTA Board was somewhat critical of the polling methods, as The Times’ William Neuman reported last night.

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Kevin November 18, 2008 - 2:08 am

The grades in the report card are far too subjective to be of any use to actually grade the system so I take them with a massive grain of salt. Most riders already have crappy opinions about the system and will intentionally slam the system in a desperate attempt to get someone to listen to them.

As a 7 train rider, the line is much cleaner than it was a year ago. There’s usually very little litter on trains or platforms and they’ve gotten rid of the majority of the scratchiti. Heck they’ve even gone as far as removing gum from certain areas and given a fresh coat of paint to many areas. But I do agree delays have gotten worse on the line but I think much of it was due to growing pains of the new interlocking at 74th Street and the new service pattern that was implemented at Main Street. Overall, I think service has improved a few notches over the past year. There are still more changes that can be made but that’s too much to post here.

Julia November 18, 2008 - 10:00 am

Can you point me to the details of those service changes? It seems to me like rush-hour bunching has gotten worse on the 7 this year, although once you actually make it onto a train, service is the same or better. I’m curious what they’ve changed.

Mr. Eric November 18, 2008 - 10:03 am

They added slightly more service on July 27, 2008.

Kevin November 18, 2008 - 12:07 pm

They also changed the terminating patterns of trains in the AM to try and reduce bottlenecks.

Alon Levy November 18, 2008 - 3:12 am

How did the L go from C to C- if it improved in every category? Do you mean it went up to C+?

Michael November 18, 2008 - 6:28 am

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

The methodology of these “report cards” can produce no usable information. The results are obvious.

If I only got a report card from teachers who felt like filling out a form, I would not see the point in giving it to my parents

I can’t figure out why the MTA is spending money on it.
— Michael

Mr. Eric November 18, 2008 - 7:17 am

This is further proof that the line general manager program that has added significant payroll to both of these lines is a HUGE waste of money!

Marc Shepherd November 18, 2008 - 8:25 am

Since the grades have gone up (albeit slightly), how does it “prove” that?

Mr. Eric November 18, 2008 - 9:52 am

In terms of overall grades for each category, the poor performance of the top 3 priorities overshadows everything else. Of the 21 categories, only 6 showed an improvement & none were that spectacular.

The 7 didn’t show ANY improvement with it’s grade remaining a C- that’s not going up as you stated in your post.

If you go to main street on the 7 or canarsie on the L you will notice that these stations and these lines have double the amount of cleaners than the rest of the system. These extra salaries that weren’t there before plus the HUGE salary of the line general manager and the ass. line g.m. do not match the results as of now.

Also notice how security on trains rated as a high priority on both lines which is the public clearly stating that the trains need no less than 2 employees on the train for the 1300 passengers.

rhywun November 18, 2008 - 11:40 am

The biggest factor in a line’s performance seems (to me) to be the age of the vehicles traveling on it.

Mr. Eric November 18, 2008 - 12:26 pm

I don’t agree. The perfect test of that theory will be when the M line gets graded. It uses all new R160 trains but I doubt if it gets an improved grade it’s a poorly managed line in the customers point of view.

rhywun November 18, 2008 - 5:07 pm

I’m thinking mainly of the Straphanger rankings* and how the 7 and N went up when they got new cars, while the R remains at or near the bottom every year.

*I find their rankings more believable than what the public reports to the MTA.

Alon Levy November 18, 2008 - 5:52 pm

The Straphanger rankings aren’t that reliable, either. They really penalize trains that share tracks. For everyone living on the IRT mainlines, the express trains are faster than the locals and come more often, but because there are two expresses and one local, the locals get higher rankings.

rhywun November 18, 2008 - 8:23 pm

Well, trains with shared tracks can be penalized in 2 or 3 out of their 6 criteria (scheduled amount of service, service regularity, and maybe crowding). Seems fair to me. My R is shared with, what, 3 other lines? And it shows.

Alon Levy November 19, 2008 - 3:00 pm

Not all criteria are weighted the same. The one that gets the highest weight is scheduled service, which is weighted at 30%, and is the most severely affected by track-sharing. Scheduled service is also one of the least random factors. Cleanliness and service regularity are essentially random; they’re not why the top scorers are always the 1, 6, 7, and L.

David November 18, 2008 - 1:17 pm

As previously mentioned, the grades are backwards. The L showed a slight improvement although I questioned the legitimacy of that when you breakdown the actual grades. The 7 remained status quo.

I have to respectfully disagree on the impact that the line manager program has brought to the table so far. These lines unlike others got significant changes after last year’s results. So for the grades to either just improve (falsely imo) or stay the same does not equal the program being an early success. However I am willing to give it time as changes do not happen overnight.

Ariel November 18, 2008 - 2:22 pm

The line management system would save the MTA money by streamlining the bureaucracy. Although the report cards (which should be taken with a big grain of salt) only show minimal improvement, restructuring the bureaucracy with the line management system would ultimately help out the MTA’s budget.

I think eventually the line management system would bring more improvements to the system, but it’s going to take time. After years of listening to subway riders and implementing the new ideas that arise from it, everything will start to add up.

If the MTA switches to the line management system it should do so for the money it saves it and wait several years to reap the rewards of improved service.

Mr. Eric November 18, 2008 - 3:18 pm

Adding 16 high paid managers in the IRT and 33 more in the IND/BMT on top of the huge amount of upper management already in place is a savings of money???

I don’t see it that way. This program is very expensive.


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