Archive for Rider Report Cards

Jan
21

The grades remain the same

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Late yesterday, New York City Transit announced that the A train had received a C-, again, on its rider report card. Today, CityRoom explores how the grades have stayed constant in the second round of report cards. Interestingly, the MTA received nearly the same number of replies in 2008 as they did in 2007 for the A, but those results are the exception and not the norm. Now, I’ll have more on the rider report cards as some point, but I still have to question the utility of doing this exercise again. I understand Howard Roberts’ rationale; he wants to keep on top of improvement. But the subways are slow to change, and this second round just strikes me as overkill.

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Jan
13

Bad grades

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With the Second Rider Report Card grades trickling in, The New York Post examines the slew of mediocre marks the MTA has received this time around. I’ll have more on this in a few weeks once every line report is out, but for now, I can’t say I’m too surprised by the grades. It will take longer than a year for the subway to show any improvement, and with service cuts looming, those marks may very well go down before they head back up.

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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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Oh, how time flies. Remember the glory days of August 2007 when the MTA released the the first results from their rider report cards? Well, the agency is back at it again.

According to a sign I spotted in the 42nd St./Bryant Park subway station on Saturday morning, the MTA will be distributing Rider Report Cards some time this week. A few readers have told me that these signs are a few days old, but I’m pretty sure we’ll see a new batch of the cards hit the streets within the next few days. But is it too soon?

When NYC Transit President Howard Roberts unveiled the Rider Report Cards as a way of hearing from the people who use and rely on the New York City subways, he was taking a step few, if any, transit heads had taken before. He was putting the agency out there and asking people to be honest in their assessments of it. The results were less than stellar. The MTA pulled in a series of grades in the D and C range with only the 42nd St. shuttle managing a B-minus.

As a part of Roberts’ initiative, the MTA added service on the 7 and L lines and eventually launched a pilot line manager program along those two lines. Over time, transit watchers and experts expressed their doubts about both the line manager program and the rider report cards. Most of us believed the cards to be nothing more than a six-month publicity stunt that would, in the end, have little impact on an organization short on the funds needed to address the problems the riders identified.

And now here we are, a little past the one-year anniversary of the first results from the rider report cards with a new set in sight. Considering how little time has past and how it’s fairly clear that service has not improved, I have to wonder if the MTA should better direct its resources elsewhere. Over the last six months, we’ve heard a constant barrage of complaints about funding. The MTA doesn’t have enough money to meet its operational budget; it doesn’t have the funds it needs for its capital investment. Trains are more delayed than they have been in years; stations are in desperate need of an overhaul.

Yet, the MTA has the money to send out a bunch of rider report cards in the slim hope that some riders will rate the subways higher this year than they did ten months ago. Color me skeptical.

Instead, I would propose that Roberts hold on to last year’s results and use those findings to persuade the government to invest more heavily in New York City’s mass transit infrastructure. The subways aren’t in great shape right now from a physical and a monetary point of view. Yet, record-breaking numbers of people are flocking to the trains.

If the MTA can leverage these first results into more money and then run the report card program every five years to assess the next level of investment, they will have created a solid program of evaluation. Instead, as the new report cards are distributed this week, I’ll just sit back and wait for the news to sound awfully similar to what we heard last year. The subways are slow, crowded and, at times, unreliable. Riders want modern technology, cleaner stations, wait-time boards (a la the L train) and a seat. That’s all there is to it.

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Sep
13

A glimpse of grades to come

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I spotted this sign hanging up in the 42nd St./Bryant Park station this morning. With September upon us, New York City Transit is going to re-grade the subway after riders last year gave the system a whole series of C grades. I’ll have more about these rider report cards, but to whet your appetite, I have to wonder if the timing for the next round is not ideal. NYC Transit hasn’t had the time to implement changes, and riders won’t be as keen to grade the subways a year after doing so for the first time.

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Earlier this week, the MTA started asking bus riders in Manhattan to grade the borough’s bus system. I’ve written in the past about how I feel this is an exercise in futility, but the MTA wants to see the cold, hard proof.

So get out there, folks. Grade your bus line. Tell New York City Transit Prez Howard Roberts that buses are infuriatingly slow; that the schedules are inaccurate; that walking across town is often just as fast as taking the bus. Get your voice heard and perhaps the MTA can use this cold, hard data to push DOT to implement bus rapid transit lanes through the city. Heaven knows we need them.

Meanwhile, as you are considering whether to rate your driver considerate, the subways are suffering through a typical weekend of service changes. You can find those here or below.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, uptown 1 trains skip 103rd, 110th, 116th, and 125th Streets due to track and roadbed reconstruction at 110th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, downtown 2 trains replace the 5 from 149th Street-Grand Concourse to Nevins Street. Downtown 5 trains replace the 2 from 149th Street-Grand Concourse to Chambers Street. These changes are due to the Clark Street tunnel lighting project.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, there are no 3 trains between 14th Street and New Lots Avenue. In Manhattan, take the downtown 5 or uptown 2. In Brooklyn, take the 4. These changes are due to the Clark Street tunnel lighting project.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 1, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Avenue to Parkchester due to track panel work between Hunts Point Avenue and Parkchester. The last stop for some Bronx-bound 6 trains is 125th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, there are no C trains between 168th and 145th Streets due to tunnel lighting and structural rehabilitation between 168th and 207th Streets. Customers may take the A train instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, free shuttle buses replace trains between 168th and 207th Streets due to tunnel lighting and structural rehabilitation between 168th and 207th Streets. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Ft. Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A train at 168th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, uptown A and C trains skip Spring, 23rd, and 50th Streets due to station rehabilitation at 59th Street-Columbus Circle.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, downtown C trains run express from 145th Street to Canal Street and downtown D trains run on the A line from 135th Street to West 4th Street due to station rehabilitation at 47th-50th Streets-Rockefeller Center.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, D trains run in two sections due to station rehabilitation at 47th-50th Streets-Rockefeller Center:
- Between 205th Street and Broadway-Lafayette Street and
- Between Broadway-Lafayette Street and Coney Island Stillwell Avenue


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 1, free shuttle buses replace G trains between Bedford-Nostrand Avs and the A/C/F Jay Street station due to track panel installation between Bergen Street and Bedford-Nostrand Avenues.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 1, free shuttle buses replace J trains between Crescent Street and the Jamaica-Van Wyck E station. (There are no J trains between Crescent Street and Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer.) This is due to track panel installation between Cypress Hills and Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to track replacement on the 20th Avenue Bridge.

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Call it No Public Transit Left Behind. After receiving grades for its subways and express buses, New York City Transit is now turning its attention toward the sluggish local bus service that dominates our roadways.

Beginning this morning, bus riders in Staten Island will have the opportunity to fill out rider report cards for their local buses. The program will eventually make its way to the other boroughs as well.

Similar to the subway report card process, riders will be asked to grade the buses along 19 different criteria and issue an overall grade. These topics are bus-specific, but upon a closer examination, I believe NYC Transit could eliminate most of the categories and still receive thorough evaluations. Take a look at the categories:

1 Reasonable wait times between buses
2 Seat availability
3 Smooth handling of buses
4 Clarity of bus destination sign
5 Current schedule information at bus stop
6 Bus operates according to schedule
7 Cleanliness of buses
8 Lack of graffiti on buses
9 Lack of scratchitti on buses
10 Courtesy of bus operators
11 Courtesy of bus dispatchers
12 Comfortable temperature in buses
13 Ease of paying your fare
14 Bus announcements routinely made
15 Bus announcements that are informative
16 Reliability of kneeling buses (front of bus)
17 Reliability of wheelchair lifts (rear of bus)
18 Bus personnel properly secure wheelchairs
19 Overall performance

A lot of these categories — wheelchair use especially — are redundant and obvious. In fact, I’d say these surveys are redundant and obvious. Ask any New Yorker to critique the bus system, and no one will be too concerned with scratchitti or graffiti. Rather, they will complain about slow speeds through the city streets and unreliable schedules. They will complain about bus bunching and gruff bus drivers. They’ll complain about inefficient boarding procedures and stops — particularly on north-south routes — that are just too close together.

Instead of investing time and energy into a rider report card program that is designed to cover hundreds of bus lines across five boroughs, the MTA could implement a few simple measures to speed up and improve bus service. They could work with DOT to figure out a dedicated bus lane system. They should implement pre-board fare processing. They should work to eliminate stops on avenues. Do buses really need to stop every two blocks? Every three or four blocks would be more than sufficient.

“This survey will measure your experience with our service and help us direct our resources to the areas where they are most needed,” NYC Transit President Howard Roberts said in an introductory letter to the surveys.

Your areas, Mr. Roberts, are right here, and these surveys will simply confirm this post. Mark my words: These rider report card results will not contain any surprises.

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With the fare hike upon us, a lot of New Yorkers are digging into their thoughts on the subway system. While I’ve been in favor of the fare hike on the basis that the MTA needs the money and the fare hike isn’t that much of a financial onus, as Metro and the Daily News both noted, straphangers are none too pleased about the hike.

For all of our love about the subways, a lot of the critiques leveled anecdotally in the press recently are accurate. Subway service in New York could be better; subway service in New York should be better. Later today, during the State of the MTA speech — which I will cover — MTA CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander will push a lot of service upgrades. But for now, the subways need work.

With that in mind and with commuters shelling out more money to ride the subway, today is a good day to revisit the Rider Report Cards. I’ve never issued my rider report card. Allow me to correct that oversight. I’m not going to grade individual lines; rather, I’m going to grade the system overall with my comments on a few choice topics.

Reasonable wait times for trains — If the MTA deserves to be judged harshly on another topic, this should be at the top of that list. Tonight, for instance, I had to wait 10 minutes at 8:30 p.m. for a downtown express train at 96th St. and Broadway. Then, two showed up. Routinely, during morning rush hour, I wait up to eight minutes for Manhattan-bound trains at 7th Ave. in Brooklyn and up to five minutes for downtown-bound express or local trains at 14th St. and 8th Ave.

In Washington, DC, the WMATA manages to run rush hour service every three to four minutes. In London, the Tubes run even more frequently. Rush hour service should be better. Grade: D

Adequate room on board at rush hour — While some people might define adequate room as “getting a seat,” I think just having enough room to stand is good enough. That said, now and then, I find myself cramming into over-stuffed trains at rush hour because there aren’t enough rush hour trains. For the most part, though, I have enough room to get home at rush hour on crowded lines. That’s good enough for me even if it could be better. Grade: C

Minimal delays during trips — Generally, most “delays” are simply slower speeds due to track configurations. West Side IRT trains can’t speed through the Chambers St.-Park Place curve, and the Manhattan Bridge-De Kalb Ave. bottleneck isn’t nearly as bad as it once was. Unavoidable delays are just that, and usually alternate routes are available. Grade: B

Station announcements that are easy to hear and Station announcements that are informative — Let me set the scene: Fade in on a commuter waiting for the train on the lower level platforms at West 4th St. The loud speaker crackles, and the commuter strains to hear the announcement: “There is a Brooklyn-bound express train approaching West 4th St. on the lower level.” That is not a helpful announcement. The B and D trains make two more stops together before heading in widely different directions.

Passengers know that a train is coming; they want to know what train is coming. This shortcoming isn’t limited to one stop either. On lines across the city, trains are routinely identified as “Queens-bound locals” or “Manhattan-bound trains.” Tell us what trains are coming. That’s what we want to know. And enough already with the “important message from the NYPD.” We know. Grade: D

Train announcements that are easy to hear and Train announcements that are informative — Short answer: It depends on the train. The R42s that run on the B often feature loud speakers that hum at painful volumes and announcements that are inaudible. The announcement on the R142s come through loud and clear. Grade: C

Sense of security in stations and Sense of security on trains — Much better than it once was. Grade: B

Working elevators and escalators in stations — Staircases never break. Grade: B

Signs in stations that help riders find their way — This category routinely pulled down a C-range grade. I never understood that. The signs are pretty clear; they tell you what intersection you’re near. Those neighborhood maps are pretty nifty too. Grade: B+

Signs in subway cars that help riders find their way — Kick Map, London-style Subway map, Vignelli map or the current incarnation? You decide. I like what we have. Grade: B

Cleanliness of stations and Cleanliness of subway cars — The subways always seem dirty, and riders are more than happy to contribute. Maybe New York should take a cue from DC and start handing out more tickets for minor littering infractions. It’s amazing how quickly people got the point in the WMATA Metro. Get the bums out too. Grade: D

Lack of graffiti in stations, Lack of graffiti in subway cars and Lack of scratchitti in subway cars — Better than it was; far from perfect. Grade: C-

Courtesy and helpfulness of station personnel — Let’s just say that “courteous” and “helpful” are not two adjectives I often use to describe MTA station employees. Sometimes, the red-vested booth worker knows what’s around their station but not usually. Grade: C

Comfortable temperature in subway cars — Warm in the winter; cool in the subway. The platforms are a different matter all together, but this question asks about subway cars. Grade: B

Ease of use of subway turnstiles and Availability of MetroCard Vending Machines — This I could not understand. Routinely, straphangers gave these two topics bad grades. Maybe it’s just the stations I frequent, but I never see fewer than two or three MetroCard Vending Machines, and the more crowded stations have tons of MVMs. Meanwhile, sure, better turnstile technology is out there, but if you can’t use the turnstiles, I don’t think it’s the MTA’s fault. Grade: A-

Overall Grade — Despite some serious rush hour deficiencies and some systematic problems with station announcement, the New York City Subways are a pretty sweet deal. For less than $2 a ride — and sometimes for as little as $1.10 if you use a monthly card enough times — the subways will take a New Yorker from one end of the city to the other in a fairly timely manner. Not bad. Grade: B-

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ssirbullets.jpg I’ve got three trains left in this whole Rider Report Card thing, and I’m saving the Q — the future Second Ave. Subway — for last. Today, we’ve got two lesser-used train lines, and the results are a little bit different than usual.

The result, gradewise, are the same. The Staten Island Railway received a C-plus while the Franklin Ave. Shuttle received a C. But what the riders think are markedly different than the norm.

The Staten Island Railway is a lonely train. It runs for 14 miles from St. George and the Staten Island Ferry terminal to Tottenville and is completely disconnected from any other rail system in the nation. The Franklin Ave. shuttle is a single-track, four-car shuttle that connects the B and Q at Prospect Park with the 2 and 3 at the Botanic Gardens and the C at Franklin Ave. It makes four stops and connects the IRT to the BMT to the IND. That’s pretty nifty.

Anyway, both of these subway lines are rather quirky. They run through some of the least safe neighborhoods in New York City and some of the most deserted, in terms of staffing, stations in the system. Those safety concerns are reflected in the rankings. Take a look.

  1. Adequate room on board at rush hour
  2. Sense of security in stations
  3. Trains depart and arrive as scheduled
  4. Sense of security on trains
  5. Cleanliness of cars
  6. Comfortable temperature in cars
  7. Cleanliness of stations
  8. Train announcements that are easy to hear
  9. Minimal delays during trips
  10. Availability of MetroCard Vending Machines

  1. Reasonable wait times for trains
  2. Sense of security in stations
  3. Minimal delays during trips
  4. Sense of security on trains
  5. Adequate room on board at rush hour
  6. Cleanliness of stations
  7. Cleanliness of subway cars
  8. Station announcements that are easy to hear
  9. Working elevators and escalators in stations
  10. Availability of MetroCard Vending Machines

Notice that? Riders ranked safety in stations second in both instances. Having ridden the Franklin Ave. shuttle on the way to and from JFK, I don’t blame frequent riders if they are a bit more on guard here. The rest of the complaints are what we’ve heard time and again with these report cards.

The full grades are after the jump. One more to go.

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16bullets.jpg We’re coming down the home stretch of the Rider Report Cards. With just three trains and the Staten Island Railroad left, let’s jump right now.

Today, we find ourselves visiting the 1 and the 6, the IRT Local trains. The 6 pulled down a C; the 1 fared worse with a C-minus. I’m familiar with both trains; the 1 was my ride up to high school for a few years. I probably would have given each a C-plus.

The 1 train runs from South Ferry — where the MTA is constructing a snazzy new terminal — north up 7th Ave. and Broadway where it stops literally everywhere. Why the train has to make six stops from (and counting) Chambers St. to 14th St. and then five stops from (and counting) 14th St. and 34th St. is beyond me. The 1 then shoots up the West Side through Harlem and and Washington Heights before ending at 242nd St.-Van Cortlandt Park. Once upon a time, it ran a skip-stop express service along with the now-defunct 9 train in northern Manhattan and the Bronx.

The 6 runs from Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall (and around the City Hall loop) local up Lexington Ave. and then through the Bronx to Pelham Bay Park. It’s the local service to the 4 and 5 express. Some rush hour trains run express in the Bronx.

The riders, as you would expect, expressed their litany of familiar complaints. Here are the top ten lists:

  1. Reasonable wait times for trains
  2. Adequate room on board at rush hour
  3. Minimal delays during trips
  4. Station announcements that are easy to hear
  5. Train announcements that are easy to hear
  6. Cleanliness of stations
  7. Station announcements that are informative
  8. Sense of security on trains
  9. Sense of security in stations
  10. Working elevators and escalators in stations

  1. Adequate room on board at rush hour
  2. Reasonable wait times for trains
  3. Minimal delays during trips
  4. Station announcements that are easy to hear
  5. Cleanliness of stations
  6. Sense of security on trains
  7. Sense of security in stations
  8. Station announcements that are informative
  9. Train announcements that are easy to hear
  10. Working elevators and escalators in stations

The full grades are after the jump.

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