Straphangers rank subways as every line falls short of a full fare


Shortly after the Straphangers released their annual State of the Subway Report Card, a producer at WNYC, issued what I think is the quintessential New York take on these rankings. As you can see, his belief is that if your train isn’t at the bottom, you’ll be outraged and appalled. He’s captured the essence of the way New Yorkers tend to project their feelings on the subway, but even then, things aren’t that bad. Mostly, we get to work on time, and we get where we’re going relatively quickly even if things aren’t perfect.

So just how imperfect are things? According to the Straphangers’ rankings this year, somehow, the 7 train came out on top while the 2 train ended up at the bottom of the list. Sometimes, I think these rankings are, much like the U.S. News & World Report lists, designed to be different each year so we have something to talk about, but who am I to complain? These rankings are, after all, fodder for today’s post.

This year, the 7 line emerges victorious. Despite our seemingly endless wait for a new station at 34th St. and 11th Ave., apparently, this line with its service patterns and CBTC-inspired weekend shutdowns along with a creaky tunnel and constant crowds came out on top. The Straphangers say a ride on the 7 is $2 — though we’ll come back to that later — and praised the train for its “frequency of service”, lack of delays caused by mechanical breakdowns and, somehow, seat availability during rush hour.

On the flip side, my dear 2 train came in dead last. I ride the 2 fairly regularly in Manhattan and Brooklyn and, absent some crowding, don’t find much wrong with it. The Straphangers, though, fault the line for irregular service, mechanical breakdowns and seat availability during rush hour (but does any subway line worth its salt have seats available during rush hour?). What’s odd about the 2 train’s ranking is that its cars’ mean distance between failures is still well over 125,000 miles. But as this rolling stock is the oldest of the new breed and other lines are receiving the latest and greatest, the numbers start to sag a bit. However, in the Straphangers’ first State of the Subway report, the 2 train’s old redbirds latest just 71,000 miles on average between failures. My, how our expectations have changed.

The rest of the report card is a succinct summary of the subways. Most of the lines are very crowded at rush hour; announcements on newer rolling stock are easier to hear; trains themselves aren’t that dirty (while stations can appear dirty or grimy); and regularity of service is a low-level problem but one that’s more obvious than others.

Overall, though, for yet another year in a row, the Straphangers have determined that no subway line is worth the price of even a discounted MetroCard swipe, and this has always rubbed me the wrong way. By undercutting the value of a MetroCard, the Straphangers are urging everyone to think that we’re getting ripped off. Even as the group has tried to increase the dollar value of its rating to meet fare increases, the perception is that we’re not getting what we paid for. For at most $2.50, I can get just about anywhere reasonably quickly. I’d say that’s a good deal, warts and all.

41 Responses to “Straphangers rank subways as every line falls short of a full fare”

  1. Jospehina says:

    Why is the 7 always #1 or #2? This campaign always makes it seem like the 7 is the best – it sucks!

    • Theorem Ox says:

      From reading the methodology of the rankings (a cursory one at that admittedly), it looks like their way doesn’t really line up with the real world experiences of everyday commuters and how that in turn affects the commuter’s view of their subway line.

      Maybe except for those board the 7 at Flushing, I personally don’t know too many people who think the 7 is the best.

      Most commonly cited is the perpetual service disruptions, seemingly at random weekdays and almost always on every weekend. Other 7 train “charms” would include local trains bypassing local stops (sometimes, you get lucky with the following train arriving 5 minutes later and with more passengers on it than the bypassed train) and erratic intervals between trains (perhaps you’ll have 3 trains arriving back-to-back and then a 10 minute wait for the 4th train).

      • sonicboy678 says:

        Though I don’t frequent the 7, I’ve seen plenty of that the few times I have used it. Seriously, how many reverse-peak trains do you really need? Why does it take forever to get a train if you missed a bunch? Why has nothing been done to minimize issues if a problem arises between (primarily) Grand Central and Queensboro Plaza?

        Concerning the local trains skipping local stations, it sometimes happens with other routes, but there’s usually another train less than three minutes behind it to compensate.

  2. Larry Littlefield says:

    Since most of the cost of the subway is labor, does this mean the employees are underpaid? Or taxes are too low (and if so which ones)?

    I know. We should be borrowing more!

    In fact we are getting ripped off. And that is exactly why. Because of past borrowings, deferred costs, and advanced revenues, a good chunk of what you pay today does not go to what we get today.

    And back when the MTA was borrowing, deferring costs, and advancing revenues, the Straphangers were in favor of it. And they are in favor of it now. So the gap between what we pay and what we get will continue to grow.

    • Bolwerk says:

      We should be borrowing to invest in the future. At the same time, we should be shedding work roles we no longer need. I don’t see how those two things contradict each other. Staphangers, of course, doesn’t see it that way (or care).

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        The problem is, after 20 years of borrowing for reasons other than to invest in the future, how much is left to invest with?

        • Spendmor Wastemor says:

          All money is free when someone else is paying.

          • Bolwerk says:

            “Someone else” pays no matter what. Sometimes “someone else” pays considerably less when proactively borrowing rather than waiting for things to get worse. Capital projects are like that almost by definition.

            The MTA has borrowed irresponsibly in the past, and that sucks, but this doctrinaire talk of stopping all borrowing is just stupid.

    • Spendmor Wastemor says:

      No, it means its a segment of New York believes they are entitled to services at less than cost while at the same time complaining that capitalists, wall street, and the 1% are somehow the cause of the high service costs.

      Just after the $2.50 fare began, I recall a stranger on a bus in Harlem offering me a lengthy rant on the subject together with his position that an MTA hourly who clears $100K is “working class”, and thus the $2.50 fare must be due to management/bankers/those people stealing all the money. Somehow.

      It made me think, just for a moment, that maybe transit operating costs should be sourced 100% from fares. That would have some unpleasant consequences tho, it’s not a practical idea.

      • SEAN says:

        You might want to read up on MARTA since that is esentially the way it opperates with some ad revenue thrown in. Georgia contributes nothing.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Ben, your headline is pure spin. Of course every line falls short of a full fare. The methodology scales the rating to that of the best-performing line in each category. A line would get full fare if it were the best in each category – frequency, peak crowding, audible announcements, etc.

  4. Bolwerk says:

    I think these rankings are, much like the U.S. News & World Report lists, designed to be different each year so we have something to talk about, but who am I to complain?

    They seem to measure things that could be also be pretty variant from one year to the next. And I don’t know if I agree about how little they weigh regularity and scheduled service, given those are the two factors that pretty much make transit work. They are impacted greatly by breakdown rates, which of course are weighted on the low side.

    The others: crowding sucks, but it’s only a problem when it affects the first two factors. Before that it’s just, “Woe is me, I have to stand.” It could almost be a binary measure.

    Ditto cleanliness. Filth sucks, but it’s only a problem when…

    And announcements? They don’t strike me as 10% of the importance to good service. Maybe 2%, and their importance drops the more you avoid problems.

    • Tower18 says:

      Agreed, if trains are frequent, on time, and without unscheduled diversions or changes, what announcements do I need exactly?

      • Alon Levy says:

        Some people ride lines that are not their usual route and may not remember all the stations.

      • Bolwerk says:

        They’re needed for other reasons like serving the visually impaired or what Alon said, but I wouldn’t call them a core trait of good service.

        I don’t disagree with weighing them, just the weight they got.

  5. Rob says:

    ‘Straphangers have determined that no subway line is worth the price’- of course; that’s their reason for existence – to complain and lobby for their interests, like any non-profit org.

  6. Jerrold says:

    Off-topic for this PAGE, but very much on-topic for this BLOG:


    • JMB says:

      Do you(or anyone here) happen to know which ROW is the one crossing Queens Blvd that is abandoned? It’s not the one you linked, I know that much. It has the huge, beautiful masonry arch viaduct that crosses the entire blvd and appears abandoned since you can see trees growing up top. Was always curious about possible reactivation of this one too. It’s located near 73rd street I believe.

      • Jerrold says:

        I never heard of it.
        If there is anybody here who lives in that neighborhood, maybe HE would know.

      • Brooklynite says:

        That’s the CSX freight line from Fresh Pond Yard. It eventually leads to the Hell Gate Bridge (that’s the one that Amtrak crosses that runs above the Ditmars Blvd N/Q stop). It has a few freight trains a day as far as I know, but it is part of the route of the proposed Triboro RX.

        • Nathanael says:

          If you follow the freight line far enough south, you can also get to the Brooklyn Waterfront; this is the long-proposed route for trains from the proposed Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel, which would allow rail freight to go from New Jersey to New England without going to Albany.

  7. Roy says:

    Why is there no rating for the G?

    • BoerumBum says:

      Straphangers gets $1.25 for failure to finish their report before publishing it.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Because the MTA measures crowding data at the entrance to the Manhattan core. The G doesn’t enter the Manhattan core, and as a result does not have public data. Some years, Straphangers go out and measure it themselves. The 7’s most crowded point is well short of its entry to Manhattan, since it gets less crowded at both 74th and QBP, and this boosts its ranking.

      • Andrew says:

        The MTA most certainly measures loads at the peak load point on every subway line and every bus line. Why the Straphangers Campaign uses the cordon count instead I have no idea – I suppose either they asked for the wrong thing or the MTA refused to give them the right thing (although I’m pretty sure that the peak load counts are public information).

  8. Cate Contino says:

    As is clearly stated in the report, the G does not get a MetroCard Rating because comparable crowding data is not available. This report is based on an extensive review of official NYCT data. NYCT does not include the G in it’s annual cordon count, so we are unable to give it a MetroCard rating. We do issue a profile for the G for 5 other indicators.

    In addition, the MetroCard rating does not seek to make a subjective value judgment of the worth of subway
    service. It is not based on economic factors, such as the cost of providing service or comparisons
    to the costs of other modes of transportation. Instead, it is only a yardstick that permits a simple
    and direct ranking of subway lines. It could easily have been an A-F scale, but the scale we use allows for a more granular ranking between lines.

    • Chris C says:

      You can’t have it both ways.

      You say it is not a “subjective value judgement” and that “is not based on economic factors” but by sticking a ‘$’ in front of the figures that is exactly what you are doing – giving them an economic value.

      If you wanted more granularity then rank each line 1-19 (I’ve excluded the G) for each element and give a total score based on that.

    • BoerumBum says:

      A percentile rating would give you gradation without implying that the subway isn’t worth the cost of a fare swipe… or you could base the dollar amount on average taxi fare, with a perfect score being $20 or so.

    • Andrew says:

      NYCT doesn’t include the G in its annual cordon count, because the G doesn’t cross the cordon. But the cordon count isn’t what you should be using, since the cordon isn’t necessarily the most crowded point on the line. See this comment in response to Alon Levy.

      As Chris C and BoerumBum have said, assigning ratings on a dollar scale is blatantly misleading. Even though you’re not explicitly stating that a ride is “worth” its dollar score, a lot of readers infer it. At the very least, you could set the scale so that the base fare falls at the midpoint rather than at or near the maximum.

      Finally, as I’ve pointed out in past years, rating the lines based on frequency of an individual line skews the results. Some trunk lines carry three or four distinct services, each relatively infrequent but all together quite frequent, while on the flip side, all Flushing line service, local and express, is denoted by a single route number. The 7 invariably ranks highly because the 7 runs frequently – a 2:30 headway in the AM rush, according to your table – but that’s split between local and express, and anyone waiting for one of those two services experiences a 5:00 headway. Yet (to pick one simple example, but I could have picked any number of others) on the nearby Astoria line, the N and the Q (which make the exact same stops between the Astoria terminal and 34th Street) show a 7:15 headway each – so the combined headway is 3:38. Most Flushing line riders experience an effective 5:00 headway, while most Astoria line riders experience an effective 3:38 headway – yet the 7 far outranks the N/Q in your frequency metric, due simply to a quirk of nomenclature. The 7 is always going to come out close to the top of the rankings because of this quirk.

  9. sonicboy678 says:

    Concerning mechanical failures, many of these routes have flawed ratings. Why? Equipment is swapped between routes, especially for those that use identical equipment and share a terminus.

    In other words, many of the ratings are basically bullshit. The 2 and 5 constantly swap; also, the 2 has used cars normally assigned to the 1 and 4 in recent years. The 6 has also used 4 equipment and is now receiving equipment from Corona in a Conversion trade. To add more to that, the 5 has borrowed 4 equipment, though that was primarily during the Jerome Avenue shutdowns. The same goes for the 7. The C and J have been swapping cars, further skewing the numbers. The A sometimes borrows from the B and C; likewise, the C may have to borrow from the A. The F and R have performed a swap similar to the C and J, where the scales are balanced between older and newer cars.

  10. Roxie says:

    The 2 is painfully infrequent in the Bronx, even on weekdays. In Manhattan and Brooklyn you have lines that supplement each other; the 3 on 7th Ave (and the 1 in a pinch) and the 4 and 5 in Brooklyn. In the Bronx, especially north of East 180th, no such luck, outside of a couple 5s running up White Plains Road in the evening.

    • sonicboy678 says:

      Welcome to Nostrand Avenue. I take it you’re new here?

      • ajedrez says:

        At least Nostrand has the 5 during the week.

        • sonicboy678 says:

          Yeah, but WPR has it every day. There’s absolutely no Brooklyn 5 service after 21:00 during the week or any whatsoever on weekends or at night (the night being the only time WPR only has the 5 at exactly one station).

        • sonicboy678 says:

          I forgot to add that Nostrand Avenue is more screwed than WPR when the 5 does operate into Brooklyn. Either the 5 gets stuck somewhere or follows the 4 like a dumbass.

  11. Phantom says:


    The 2 runs about every four- six minutes from the 241 St terminal during peak hours then tapers off gradually during the day ro every 8 to 10 minutes until late night

    That is frequent service by any standard

  12. Herb Lehman says:

    I’m surprised the 6 scored as highly as it did. The 6 is a nightmare during the morning rush hour. Too many mornings, there are 7-8 minute gaps during the dead of rush hour, followed by the train going express between 59th and 86th Street when virtually everyone on the 6 rides it to the colleges and hospitals off the 68th Street stop. The swap the MTA made to replace the 6 line’s newer trains with the 7 line’s older R62s has made matters worse, as the doors are noticeably smaller, and it takes longer to load and offload passengers. I’d give almost anything to not have to ride the 6.

    • sonicboy678 says:

      Those are R62As; that aside, I agree with you. At least the 6 mostly trips over itself and nothing else, meaning that problems can be ironed out a bit more easily.

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