Home Straphangers Campaign C train flunks in latest Straphangers rankings

C train flunks in latest Straphangers rankings

by Benjamin Kabak

Every year at around this time, the Straphangers Campaign releases another set of its report cards, and every year, I begrudgingly cover them. I understand what the Straphangers are trying to do with the report cards; they’re trying to condense a lot of information about our subway system into an easy-to-understand presentation. But they’re also so kitschy. Do we need a report released in August of 2011 to tell us that our subway trains in mid-2010 were crowded, dirty and often did not arrive as scheduled?

This year, the best thing to arrive out of the Straphangers’ report was the headline on Andrew Grossman’s Wall Street Journal piece: “MTA Has 99 Problems, But J/Z Ain’t One.” The J/Z trains, you see, took top honors in the Straphangers’ poll. Tell that to the folks who have to ride those trains every day.

Anyway, here’s the story in a nutshell: The J/Z ranked top with a MetroCard rating of $1.45 while the 2 and C came in last with a rating of just $0.90. For the C, it’s the third year in a row at the bottom of the list, and that’s largely due to the fact that it has been, until recently, home of the oldest rolling stock in the system. The cars break down more frequently; the announcement are less audible; and the line is generally dirtier.

The report itself covers the first half of 2010, and it’s almost a case of shutting the barn door after the horse escapes. As Straphangers attorney Gene Russianoff said, “Its probably is too early to measure the full impacts of the 2010 cuts, but according to official transit statistics, there were fewer subway car breakdowns in the last half of 2010, while subway car cleanliness and announcements declined slightly in the year. What’s clear is that many riders on the top rated lines are getting much better service than those taking lines that are at the bottom of the barrel.”

In the report, which is available here, the Straphangers discuss their methodology. Basically, they rate across five categories: breakdowns, cleanliness, chance of getting a seat, amount of scheduled service and regularity of service. Unfortunately, by focusing on line-by-line variables, the report misses the forest for the trees. For instance, if I’m going from Brooklyn to Manhattan via the West Side IRT, I don’t care if, say, the 2 has service scheduled only every ten minutes as long as the 2 and 3 combined have five-minute headways.

This year’s version of the report found that few things had changed underground. In the short term, they rarely do. The subway car breakdown rate improved to 170,217 miles, up from 148,002 miles. Car cleanliness stayed the same, and intelligible announcements declined from 91 percent to 87 percent.

My biggest issue with the Straphangers’ report is the ultimate way it quantifies the subway system. By using a so-called MetroCard system that evaluates a bunch of variables, scales them and assigns a dollar value to them based off of a system where a $2.25 ride would require top scores in every category, the Straphangers are basically saying that the subway isn’t worth the swipe. That’s a dangerous thing to say in an era in which the MTA enjoys nearly no political support and the transit system is hanging on by the skin of its teeth.

The Straphangers nearly admit as much. As they say on their website, “Some riders may find this scale too generous, believing that performance levels should be far better than they are now. Other riders, who value transit service over other ways to travel in New York City, may believe the subways and buses to be a bargain.” Interpret that as you will.

For its part, the MTA sort of brushed off the study. The authority has been releasing this information in a more up-to-date form on its performance metrics dashboard, and its riders know how service lags. “Each month, New York City Transit reports on a wide range of performance indicators that are always available for riders at mta.info,” Transit said in a statement. “We always appreciate and consider the Straphangers Campaign’s fun and unique take on subway and bus service.”

Now if only someone would present a serious proposal that would help fix the inherent problems with both the MTA and its service offerings.

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Alex C August 25, 2011 - 1:07 am

The C flunked because it had R32s on it at the time. It’s now R46s due to R32s needing to be on the A and in yards due to AC issues. So that score is off. Also the 6 is a disaster. The R142As on the 6 are by far the worst of the new technology trains, and maintenance and cleaning of the line’s trains is awful. The G is also pretty bad. Either way, 6 and G both worse for me than the C in my experience.

Benjamin Kabak August 25, 2011 - 1:09 am

That’s a key problem too: This report published yesterday is telling me how train service was during the first half of last year. Not so useful.

Eric August 25, 2011 - 9:38 am

What exactly is going on with the R32s being switched to the A? I was out on disability for three weeks and when I returned to work jumped on an R32 at Hoyt thinking it was a C (I didn’t check) and didn’t realize my mistake until we flew past Spring St. I didn’t think things would change that much in three weeks!

And the G really isn’t that bad. Yes, it can be dirtier than other lines, but it comes with pretty good frequency despite the posted timetable, and I can go from Greenpoint to downtown Brooklyn in 15 minutes. That’s pretty good.

Lawrence Velázquez August 25, 2011 - 9:41 am

Why are they running R32s on the A?

Kid Twist August 25, 2011 - 11:15 am

The 32s are off the C while they try to get the air conditioning units working consistently. One story I heard: They believed the 32s’ air conditioning was failing because they were spending all their time in hot, badly-ventilated tunnels on a local route that requires opening the doors frequently. Moving them to the A gets them outside and allows them to run for longer stretches between stations.

Alex C August 25, 2011 - 2:05 pm

Also lets them sleep at Rockaway yard as spares. Those things are in awful condition at this point.

Jorge August 25, 2011 - 8:37 am

The C is basically my only option to work in BedStuy. Never passes with any regularity whatsoever, and you often wait 30 minutes during what should be peak hours. Its existence has to led to me using my car more than I ever thought I would in NYC.

7 train August 25, 2011 - 8:43 am

Also, the 7 train always ranks so highly, but should not do so. Is there a 7 bias among the rankers?

TP August 25, 2011 - 9:25 am

I don’t take the 7 too frequently but when I do I’m always impressed with it. Always seems to come very frequently during rush hours, runs quickly with express service in peak directions, cars are crowded but not too full to get on, plus you get to watch Queens fly by from the elevated. What’s not to love?

Bolwerk August 25, 2011 - 8:15 pm

I take it fairly often. It’s frequent enough, and I usually get a seat out of Manhattan in the evening. Maybe it’s a little dank sometimes, but it’s usually fairly smooth sailing operationally and crowd-wise.

I’m satisfied, and it seems to meet Straphangers’ standards, which aren’t necessarily my standards, better than most other lines I take.

Larry Littlefield August 25, 2011 - 9:26 am

I have the same issue with the rankings you do.

Someday, when the transit system has been completely bankrupted, maybe the Straphangers will agree riders haven’t been ripped off by the evil MTA. After a shutdown, when they are paying $0.00 for a lack of ride worth $0.00.

The MTA taxes? They’re for debt and pensions, with some of the debts used to fund past fare cuts, not transportation.

Subway reports cards: J/Z trains rock, C train stinks — The Funky Apple | A New York City Blog August 25, 2011 - 12:45 pm

[…] that it’s the MTA’s glorified garbage train. [Straphanger’s Campaign via Second Ave Sagas AKPC_IDS += […]

SEAN August 25, 2011 - 2:10 pm

Does that mean that the “C” gets an “F?” LOL

It would be smart if all A’s went to Far Rockaway & C’s went to Beach 116th street to prevent confusion.

Bolwerk August 25, 2011 - 8:12 pm

Yeah, Straphangers’ ratings are meh. The crappiest equipment on the system has to go somewhere; it happens to be on the C.

Do these cats do anything these days? I read an interview with Gene Russianoff a few years ago and was rather disheartened. Among other things, I seem to remember he was advocating keeping extra staffing (conductors specifically, maybe others) around in the name of “safety.” No offense intended to a guy who has obviously done some good and means well, but advocates – particularly riders’ advocates – need to stand up to TWU and MTA managerial nonsense alike if riders are going to have a better, more affordable system.

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[…] like last year, meanwhile, the C train with its decrepit rolling stock ranked last again. It won’t move up […]


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