Yesterday afternoon, I offered up a short piece and a link to the Straphangers Campaign annual state of the subways report card. I didn’t have time then to really drill down on the findings and offer up my critique of the survey. So let’s jump in now.
First up were the Straphangers’ various findings. You can see the tables of subway grades on the report’s site. Unfortunately, they’re available only as PDFs and not, in 2009, as online tables. Anyway, technology gripes aside, the top-line findings:
- The best subway line in the city is the 7 with a “MetroCard Rating” of $1.55
- The L came in second behind the 7 with a MetroCard Rating of $1.50.
- Both the L and 7 are in a “line general managers” program, which has promise to improve service.
- The C was ranked the worst subway line, with a MetroCard Rating of 50 cents.
- Overall, we found a mixed picture for subway service on the three measures we can compare over time — car breakdowns, car cleanliness and announcements.
- There are large disparities in how subway lines perform.
Those last two points in the survey require some further digging. Both in that top-line summary and in the subway line profiles, the Straphangers reveal widely divergent results without explaining they whys of it.
They only time, in fact, that they do explain why is in point three. The 7 and L performed better because the pilot program for the Line Managers had more resources available than the rest of the subway lines currently enjoy or will have in the future. In that regard, the Straphangers’ assessment doesn’t consider how Transit has seemingly weighted any line analysis in favor of a pilot program for which they wanted full approval.
In discussing points five and six, the Straphangers offered up some numbers. We’ll focus on two of them:
- The car fleet breakdown rate worsened from an average mechanical failure every 149,646 miles in 2007 to 134,795 in 2008 — a drop of almost 10%. This is a bad trend, raising questions about the condition and maintenance of the aging transit fleet. We found: fifteen lines worsened (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, A, C, E, F, G, L, Q, R and V), while seven lines improved (2, B, D, J/Z, M, N and W).
- Accurate and understandable subway car announcements improved, going from 85% in our last report to 90% in the current report. We found that: sixteen lines improved (1, 6, 7, A, B, C, E, F, G, J/Z, M, N, Q, R, V and W), two worsened slightly (D and L) and four remained unchanged (2, 3, 4 and 5).
What is happening here is clear: The subway lines that enjoyed a rollout of new R160s during 2008 saw marked improvements in their scores. The B and W— two lines showing improvements in the maintenance department — inherited newer cars when the Q and N received new cars. Meanwhile, the BMT Nassau St./Jamaica line trains (the J, M and Z) also were the recipients of new trains. Thus, those lines were nearly guaranteed improvements across the board.
Point six suffered from the same new train bias. The N, according to the Straphangers, had a breakdown rate nearly 200,000 miles above average. That’s because the R160s haven’t yet started to break down or even age yet. Instead of praising the line for its successes, the Straphangers should be praising the MTA for investing in new rolling stock.
In the end, this survey is what it is. We all know that it’s tough to get a seat at rush hour, that the antiquated public address system isn’t really adequate and that stations are both crowded and dirty. The real reasons for the improvements — new cars, new management programs and an unequal and unsustainable redistribution of cleaning services — make for a far more compelling story than the one the Straphangers told yesterday.