Home View from Underground What the MTA should do with subway station grades

What the MTA should do with subway station grades

by Benjamin Kabak

As a society, we seem to love grading things. How many Yelp stars does the hot new restaurant have? What’s its Department of Health rating? Everything from movies to shops and everything in between gets subjected to rankings, and now, the subways are in the crosshairs too.

In a way, some groups already rank the subways. The Straphangers assign various scores to the train lines each year based upon cleanliness, timeliness and availability of seating, but controversially, they don’t think any subway lines are worth a full fare. Such ratings aren’t the height of usefulness.

A few weeks ago, though, the City Council started making noises about grading subway stations. Exerting what little influence they have over the MTA and New York City Transit, the Council members decided that riders deserve to know just how dirty and decrepit their stations are. Never mind that no one knew who would fund this effort or as most riders have little choice as to their station, what purpose it would serve. It was a grade, and we love grades.

At the time of the City Council hearing, I was less than impressed with the idea. It seemed like pointless bluster from a body that excels at pointless bluster, and it did nothing to solve the underlying problems with funding and station maintenance. At the time, the MTA said they already conducted internal evaluations of studies but did not release the grades to the public. Now, the Daily News offers us a glimpse at this internal grading initiatve.

Pete Donohue has the story:

But the Daily News obtained three different NYC Transit division reports in which stations periodically are rated on a scale of 1 to 4 for the condition of their walls, ceilings and floors. Separate reports grade stations on cleanliness and litter. Cleanliness essentially is a matter of how much grime, goo and trampled gum there is in a station. Litter is coffee cups, junk-food wrappers, freebie newspapers and other trash.

The reports don’t combine all the various scores given to each station. They don’t provide an overall letter grade for each stop. Someone who paid much more attention in math class than I did would have to do some number crunching to get there.

But the reports are pretty damn close to what the Council members — James Vacca of the Bronx, Domenic Recchia of Brooklyn, and Peter Koo of Queens — advocated for at the hearing. It also appears that NYC Transit didn’t fully inform MTA brass about how much data already is collected when the letter grades idea was raised.

Unfortunately, Donohue doesn’t provide too many more details in this column than what the MTA itself told the City Council. Some stations get failing grades; others do not. That’s hardly the news. What is the news, though, is that, according to MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, the numbers are used internally in order to assign resources to each station. That’s a public use waiting to happen.

I’ve written extensively over the years about the MTA’s willingness to open its data. Here’s another prime opportunity to do so. Recently, NYC DOT put a whole bunch of street and parking data online in a map. By choosing the right paramters, users can see how recently a street was repaved and how NYC DOT grades those streets. For instance, the potholed-marked street near my office hasn’t been resurfaced since 1999 but DOT somehow rated it “good.” Perfect, the system is not, but it exists.

So the MTA could put that data online, and we would know how they view our station. Isn’t that really what this is all about too? We already know what we think of our subway stations, but what does the MTA think? Do they know how dirty they are? Do they know which ones suffer from perennial leaks even during days without rain and which ones are rat-infested? If they do, so should we.

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9 comments

Bolwerk June 5, 2012 - 2:47 am

What it matters to the city council is a good question, but at least internally grading stations matters to the MTA as a matter of how to prioritize resources.

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Alek June 5, 2012 - 7:05 am

I would give a 0 to the Chambers street J/Z platform.

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SEAN June 5, 2012 - 11:20 am

Tell me again what the point is of this futle excersize?

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chemster June 5, 2012 - 3:14 pm

For City Council members to seem as if they’re doing something, without actually spending money or doing anything to solve the real problem?

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BrooklynBus June 8, 2012 - 10:23 am

Vacca did say they would be willing to allocate funds for stations receiving a D or F.

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Andrew June 10, 2012 - 12:52 pm

No he didn’t. Recchia (not Vacca) said, “I think council members would be willing to put money into the budget to get their stations cleaned up.” He didn’t make a commitment.

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BrooklynBus June 8, 2012 - 10:26 am

Just another example how Previous Chairman Walder was talking out of both sides of his mouth. He said the MTA prides itself on transparency but still will not make certain info public such as station condition and service lpanning guidelines on its website.

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Andrew June 10, 2012 - 12:56 pm

So file a FOIL request for the information you want. Transparency doesn’t mean posting every single piece of information on a website. I, for one, don’t need a website to tell me how dirty my station is.

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Big Pablo June 12, 2012 - 7:00 am

The answer for station overall cleaniness is simple: hire more cleaners. Cleaners do between 4-5 station per 8 hours. Customer traffic doe not stop. there is between 6 to 8 hours between shifts. Trash tends to accumulate. Hire more cleaners, cut the numbers of stations down to 3-4 per day and increase length of time each cleaner stays at station. pretty easy.

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