Archive for Straphangers Campaign
Nearly 33 percent of subway payphones at the system’s 40 busiest stations are not in working order, according to a report released today the Straphangers Campaign. With subway cell service still a work in progress and years away from becoming a system-wide reality, these numbers do not bode well for emergency communications or response efforts. “About a third of subway phones do not fully work,” Cate Contino, coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign said in a statement. “And that’s a problem for many riders.”
For what it’s worth, back in 2007, the Straphangers found that 29 percent of payphones were nonfunctioning. That survey had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent, and while the methodologies have changed, the results have not.
To assess payphone functionality, the Straphangers’ volunteers tested 740 phones in the 40 most-used underground subway stations between July 14 and August 16, 2010. Thirty-one percent of those were deemed to be in non-working order, and as the Straphangers noted in their survey, these findings likely conflict with Verizon’s contractual obligations to “exercise good-faith effort to clear 95% of all known troubles within 24 hours.” (Before 2005, Verizon had to maintain 95 percent of phones as “fully operative and in service at all times,” but a change a few years ago lessened their upkeep burden.)
The Straphangers issued their key findings in bullet form:
- The best of the most-used underground stations – with 100% of payphones functioning – is the 33rd Street Station on the 6 train on the Lexington Line.
- The worst of the most-used stations – with only 29% working phones – is the 77th Street station also on the 6 train on the Lexington Line.
- The leading reason for phones being rated as non-functioning was no dial tone (33%) followed by: cannot connect to a 1-800 test number (21%); coin falls through (14%); won’t return coin (13%); coin slot blocked (11%); and bad handset (7%).
- In all, 740 payphones were tested. Of these, our surveyors found that 509 (69%) of these were in functioning order.
According to the Straphangers, their results jibe with an independent study conducted by the MTA. That report found 30 percent of payphones with “service affecting troubles,” and the two methodologies were largely in line. An internal MTA study conducted last year, however, found that 92 percent of all payphones and every one of Transit’s 468 were in working order. The Straphangers believe that since the internal examiners did not perform a “coin drop” test, those results are likely inflated. Plus, considering cell phone penetration, it matters less if a payphone at an aboveground station is working.
Ultimately, a few forces are at work here. On the one hand, subway payphones are scarce. I’ve seen units removed from West 4th St. and from the Bryant Park stop, to name a few, and those that still exist are barely touched. They’re dirty and largely inconvenient. But in the case of an emergency, the system needs functional communications devices, whether those are payphones or intercoms. From the sound of it, though, one out of three payphones just won’t do the job.
I snapped the above photo three years ago yesterday while waiting for a train at 7th Ave. along the Culver Line. Since 2008, the physical situation at that station has not improved. Although crews have been working hard on the Culver Viaduct, just down the line, the popular Park Slope station that serves F and G train riders has been in a state of constant decay, and it is not alone amongst the system’s stations.
Earlier this week, Transportation Alternatives and the Straphangers Campaign announced a contest. The winner will receive a free 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard. All you have to do is snap photos of the subway and bus system. As the group said, the rules are simple. Anyone can submit up to three photos in each of their two categories: Good Transit Scene or Bad Transit Scene.
The categories are, in fact, self explanatory. Good Transit Scenes depict “the life and energy of the subway or bus system. Bad Transit Scenes are akin to the ones above. Those photos are supposed to show “conditions on the subways or buses that need fixing, such as drips or broken lighting.” I can only imagine which category will receive more entries.
The entry form is available on the Straphangers’ website, and the contest runs until 4 p.m. on Friday, June 10. “Public transit is a defining element of New York City life–over 54 percent of New York City households do not own a car and over 70 percent take public transit to commute to work,” Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, said. “This contest will shine a spotlight on an essential aspect of New Yorkers’ everyday lives and highlight the real-world consequences of funding cuts.”
On its own, this contest is a clever idea to get us to think about our surroundings. We’ll see plenty of photographs of great views, trains passing overhead and Arts for Transit installations. But we’ll also see conditions that make us cringe. We’ll see mold-infested stations with crumbling ceilings, staircases with holes in them and rusted metal. We’ll see water-stained walls without tiles and stations covered in trash. We’ll see a system sagging under its own weight.
At the same time though, this contest serves as a reminder that photography in the subway is permitted. The Straphangers had to remind folks of that truth by linking to Section 1050.9(3) of New York City Transit’s Rules of Conduct. Yet, countless people are stopped by cops and MTA employees who believe photography in the subway is not allowed.
Finally, the Straphangers do plan to present these photos to the MTA once they are all compiled. The authority is, of course, well aware of the state of its infrastructure, but the Bad Transit Scenes will serve as a stark reminder of the widespread nature of the decay. Maybe if the right person in Albany sees the photos, they’ll be motivated enough to ask the right questions and produce results. I can dream, at least.
The subways are getting dirtier, the Straphangers Campaign said today in its annual Shmutz Survey, and the R train is the worst of all.
According to the rider advocacy group, the subways are dirty. With only 47 percent of in-service train cars marked as clean, the number of spot-free subway cars is down from 56 percent in the 2008 survey. The R train, with only 27 percent of cars earning a positive cleanliness rating, is the worst while the 7 train, with 68 percent of its cars considered clean, is the best. The MTA disputed these findings while the Straphangers defended them as the two sides who often fight for the same thing find themselves at odds.
In discussing the survey results, Straphangers head Gene Russianoff noted how budget cuts impacted the cleaning staff. Car cleaners are done from 1138 with 146 supervisors in 2009 to 1030 with 123 supervisors this year. “Last year, we predicted ‘more cuts to come means more dirt for subway riders.’ And sadly that’s turned out to be true,” he said.
The Straphangers Campaign conduct their survey on board trains in motion, and volunteers rate the subway lines for cleanliness of both the floors and the seats. The group uses Transit’s official standards for measuring car cleanliness and have offered up a note on methodology. The key findings are bulleted here:
- The five subway lines that experienced statistically significant deterioration were the 6, B, E, L and R.
- The most improved line in our survey was the M, going from 32% clean cars in 2009 to 61% in 2010. It was the one subway line that showed statistically significant improvement. The M was dramatically restructured in June of 2010, combining with the V line and losing 24 stations between downtown Manhattan and southern Brooklyn.
- Fourteen lines remained statistically unchanged: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, A, C, D, F, G, J, N and Q.)
- The most deteriorated line in our survey was the B, which fell from 61% in 2009 to 37% in 2010.
- The survey found major disparities in cleanliness among the lines, ranging from a low of 27% clean cars on the R line to a high of 68% on the 7.
While commuters certainly know that the subways are dirtier, the MTA took umbrage with the Straphangers’ methods. In an excellent piece on Transportation Nation, Jim O’Grady explored the dispute between the MTA and Straphangers. He writes:
Kevin Ortiz, an NYC MTA spokesman, said the authority disagreed strongly with the report, “which does not accurately measure NYC Transit’s ability to clean subway cars.” He said the agency is now more flexible in shifting cleaners to trains that need them most, which has led to a “minimal impact” on overall car cleanliness.
The Authority has been engaged in aggressive public relations campaign, with placards emblazoned in many subways and buses designed to promote the MTA’s efforts to offer better service. That ad campaign came in the wake of the deepest service cuts and biggest fare hikes in over a generation in the past year.
The NYC MTA criticized the Straphangers’ report for rating car cleanliness while trains are in motion and can’t be cleaned, making its ratings more a measure of passenger behavior than authority effectiveness. The NYC MTA rates the cleanliness of its subway cars when trains are stationary. It’s unclear whether the trains are examined before or after a cleaning crew goes through. However, the authority gives itself a grade of 94 percent subway car cleanliness. That would seem to indicate trains are graded once they’ve been cleaned.
The Straphangers, though, pushed back. “I think the riding public would find our numbers credible,” Russianoff said. “To paraphrase Groucho Marx, ‘Who do you believe, the Transit Authority or your own eyes?”
The MTA and the Straphangers both want the same thing. They want the authority to be in a fiscal position to offer the appropriate service levels to riders, and right now, station maintenance and cleanliness is suffering. Stations are dirty; trains are dirty. It doesn’t really matter how dirty they are. Rather, what matters is how the MTA can solve these problems. Right now, answers are few and far between.
My morning commute from Brooklyn to law school always involves the B train, and it more often than not involves some combination of an inaudible public address system and deafening feedback at some too-early hour of the morning. Of course, those problems aren’t solely unique to the B train. In fact, in-car PA systems throughout the subway range from too loud to inaudible, and even the new pre-recorded announcements seem to have volume control issues. But the Straphangers have anointed a champion in the Bad PA System category, and my B train has won.
In a study released yesterday and conducted in 2010, the Straphangers Campaign found that 83 percent of “basic subway announcements” and clear and accurate. The 5, 6 and dearly departed W train took home the top honors all with a surprising 100 percent accuracy rate, but along the B, only 55 percent of announcements were clear and accurate. Somehow, I’m not surprised.
While I am cynical of my own daily subway line, the Straphangers were pleased with the results. “Transit gets good marks for subway car announcements of basic information,” Cate Contino, the Straphangers Campaign coordinator who oversaw the survey, said.
Yet, for all of the success of the announcements, the MTA seems to falter when it comes to those announcements that aren’t made. The Straphangers found that in 60 percent of delays or disruptions, the announcement never came or was “inaudible, garbled or incorrect.” That figure has grown by five percent since 2009. “A failure to make delay announcement means more stress and confusion for riders,” Jason Chin-Fatt, a Straphangers field organizer, said.
According to the Straphangers’ findings, in 22 percent of delays, the conductor failed to make an announcement. Another 27 percent featured incorrect announcements including those termed “meaningless” by the campaign. Those included the pre-recorded “we have a red signal ahead of us” and those lacking information or filled with MTA jargon. Being told that “We are being held by the train’s dispatcher; we should be moving shortly” does few people real favors. Impatience grows supreme.
The Straphangers say their findings were based on 6000 observations of in-car announcements made by 51 volunteers from January to June of 2010. The MTA doesn’t tally its own figures, but my general feeling is that these results aren’t far from the mark.
Ultimately, these announcements return to a theme that I’ve focused on frequently. It’s all about customer service. To make sure the customer is informed, happy and patient, the MTA should be as detailed as possible but should contain key information. We don’t care that there’s a red signal in front of us; we care that the train isn’t moving and want to know when our journey will resume. If, for an example, an F has to run along the D line to Coney Island, we want to know what that means for future stops.
By and large, I find announcements much clearer and easier to understand on the new cars. The PA systems are crisper, and the FIND displays, if accurate, offer up a nice complement to the station stops. Still, informing riders that they are delayed when we know that already seems pointless. It’s a balancing act.
What the Straphangers Campaign failed to analyze though are the overall quality of the PA systems. On more than one occasion, I’ve sat through ear-splitting feedback on the B train. The high-pitched piercing sound is far more annoying than being told for the umpteenth time there is “train traffic ahead of us.” When that’s fixed, I’ll be happy.
For the full table of announcement quality, check out this pdf.
Since 1979, the Straphangers Campaign has been the leading voice in the fight for better transit policy in New York City, and while I don’t always agree with their messages and focus, it would be foolish to deny that Gene Russianoff is a highly influential figure in the current field of transit advocates. To honor the work the Straphangers have done over the years and make sure their efforts retain their rightful place in the public history of the city, the New York Public Library has archived the entire Straphangers record.
A whopping 58 boxes of material that span 29.5 linear feet are now available at the NYPL for researchers to scour and the public to inspect. The archive, the Campaign said in a statement, includes 31 years of the following: correspondence with public officials, funders and other transit activists; memos; press releases; published “State of the Subways” and other reports; public hearing transcripts; notes; clippings; flyers, posters and banners; electronic records; an audio recording; and photographs. It’s quite the trove of information.
“The Straphangers Campaign is thrilled to be part of the historical record and very grateful to the New York Public Library for doing such an excellent job with several decades of records,” Russianoff said in a statement. The records will be housed at the Manuscripts and Archives Division and require an advanced appointment for access.
The Straphangers Campaign does not think 2010 was a banner year for public transit in New York City. The rider advocacy group released their annual list of Top Tens today, and while they managed to put together a list of the top ten best stories of the year, their top ten worst are more sobering. The list includes fare hikes, service cuts and ever-increasing budget gaps, and it portends rough seas ahead for the MTA.
“There’s no way around it: 2010 was an awful year for subway and bus riders, filled with fare hikes, service cuts and a $900 million MTA deficit,” Gene Russianoff said. “But even in a rotten year, there are some things to celebrate, and, of course, to curse the fates.”
By and large, I don’t disagree with their lists. After all, fare hikes, service cuts and unfunded capital plans are bad news for everyone, and we all appreciate faster bus service, countdown clocks and real-time information available online. But where I think the Straphangers’ list misses the marks is, again, with Student MetroCards. They have proclaimed that saving student MetroCards is the number one best transit story of the year. Says their release:
1. Student MetroCards saved (June 2010). Subways and buses move 550,000 students for free or at half-fare. For months an MTA proposal to end student MetroCards was a serious threat that roiled the public. At one point, a Facebook page set up by two high school students to fight the proposal attracted 102,000 members.
The Straphangers had been influential in pushing to save the Student MetroCard program. They put out faulty math that overestimated the costs of paid transit by $300-$400 a year. They staged rallies. They held protests. They petitioned. But to me — a daily commuter with no children who saw Student MetroCard abuse run rampant in high school — one chart seals the deal:
This chart shows how MTA contributions to student transit have risen over the last 10 years while city contributions have stayed stagnant and state contributions decreased. I have never understood why the MTA should be expected to pay for student transit when the state and city aren’t doing their jobs.
Even when the Student MetroCards were “saved” earlier this year, the solution that emerged from the compromise was not an ideal one. The state simply restored the funding that it cut for 2009. Instead of promising to fund student travel, the state is contributing $45 million, the city is contributing $45 million, and the MTA is on the hook for well over $100 million. At a time when the service cuts package totaled less than what the MTA loses to student travel, I have to wonder why we’re making concessions to what amounts to a failure of government.
When the Student MetroCard program started in 1995, the MTA, city and state were to split the bill evenly with each side contributing $45 million. Unfortunately, the enabling compromise didn’t include adjustments for inflation, increased costs of providing the service or an explosion in the number of eligible. Perhaps, we should return to a scenario where the MTA contributes only $45 million as well, and if that total package of $135 million isn’t enough to provide free travel, then students will have to pay reduced-priced cards. The MTA is a transit agency, not a school bus, and the rest of us shouldn’t have to pay even more so students can ride for free.
If you’re trying to get across 42nd St. in a hurry and the M42 is on the horizon, you’re better off walking. At least that’s the message the Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives had for the city’s transit riders as they unveiled the annual Pokey and Schleppie Awards for the New York’s bus routes today.
Maintaining an average rate of just 3.6 miles per hour during the noontime run, the M42 captured the Pokey Award, the Straphangers’ recognition for the system’s slowest bus. It is the second consecutive year this midtown route has taken home the trophy. For anyone young enough and healthy enough, it is indeed possible to cross Manhattan on foot faster than the M42 covers it on wheels.
The Straphangers and TA also unveiled the slowest routes in the other four boroughs as well. Taking home the honors were the B35, the Bx19, the Q58 and S42. Still, none of those buses can hold a candle to the M42. Each maintains speeds above 5 mph, and the S42′s 8.2 mph velocity might be slow for Staten Island but would be considered speedy along the streets of Manhattan.
As for the Schleppie, a nod for the system’s “least reliable” bus, the Bx41, the system’s 15th most popular bus route, took home the award. The Straphangers had more on the unreliable local buses:
Almost one in four Bx41 buses — 23.5% — arrived bunched together or came with big gaps in service during the first half of 2010. Last year’s “winner” with the worst reliability was the B44, which runs between Williamsburg and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
The groups noted, however, that the number of unreliable buses had more than doubled in the past year. MTA New York City Transit measures a “borough-representative sample of 42 high-volume bus routes” for unreliability. In the first half of 2009, the groups found four routes out of those 42 had more than one in five buses arriving off schedule. However, that has grown to 11 routes in the first half of 2010.
The most unreliable bus routes in each of four boroughs with over 20% of buses bunched together or big gaps in service are:
- B44: 21.7% unreliable btw Sheepshead Bay and Williamsburg on Nostrand Avenue
- Bx41: 23.5% unreliable btw Wakefield and The Hub on White Plains Rd/Webster Ave
- M101/2/3: 22.3% unreliable btw Upper and Lower Manhattan on 3rd and Lexington Avenues
- S78: 21.8% unreliable btw St. George Ferry and Tottenville on Hylan Boulevard
While local buses remain among the worst forms of surface transportation in the city, TA and the Straphangers acknowledged the MTA’s Select Bus Service plan. It’s taken a painfully long time to get Select Bus routes off the ground, but riders are noticing improvements.
“The next generation of buses is making inroads in New York City — Select Bus Service can cut travel time for riders,” Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said. “Where these fast buses have been tried in the Bronx, travel times dropped at least 20 percent. Similar improvements were recently installed on Manhattan’s East Side. Rather than pokey and schleppie buses, New Yorkers deserve quick and efficient bus service. We are encouraged by the city’s willingness to make New York’s buses work better.”
Eventually, as the MTA replaces the MetroCard with a contactless payment technology, bus load times will improve, and bus speeds should improve. Still, though, bus stops are much too close together, and the lack of lane and signal priority means that buses will forever be at the whims of surface conditions. Until bus routes are cleared, pokey and schleppy will be a perfectly adequate description of New York City bus service.
The 7 train — favored by John Rocker and urban anthropologists everywhere — is the city’s top subway route, according to the annual State of the Subway Report released this morning by the Straphangers Campaign. For the second year in a row and sixth time out of the previous 13, the IRT Flushing route leads the pack while the C train, that sad 8th Ave. local, has been rated the worst for the third year running and by no small margin.
The State of the Subways Report Card, an annual release since 1980, tracks each line along six measures, and this year, with a decade and a half of heavy investment in new rolling stock behind us, the Straphangers found that trains breakdown less frequently, are cleaner and feature more intelligible on-board announcements. “This positive trend reflects the arrival of new model subway cars and better maintenance of Transit’s aging fleet,” the Straphangers said in their report. However, the regularity of service across the subway lines varies dramatically though, and riders still struggle to find seats during peak hours.
On a scale based off of a swipe of a subway ride with $2.25 being the highest, the 7 earned a $1.60 rating, with the L right behind it at $1.45. “The 7 ranked highest,” said the report, “because it performs best in the system on subway car cleanliness and above average on four measures: frequency of scheduled service, regularity of service, delays caused by mechanical breakdowns, and seat availability at the most crowded point. The line did not get a higher rating because it performed below average on announcements.”
The C train, meanwhile, earned just a $0.55 rating while the 2, D and R trains tied for second-worst but with ratings of $0.90. “The C line performs below average on five measures: amount of scheduled service, delays caused by mechanical breakdowns and announcements (all three next to worst); regularity of service; and cleanliness,” explained the Straphangers. “The line performed better than average on one measure: chance of getting a seat at rush hour.”
As I complain every year, the Straphangers still release their reports as PDF files instead of web pages with tables. So to view the full line-by-line results, you’ll have to check out their four PDF files (line ratings, table of results, best and worst and historical rankings. I’ll break down the findings though.
The Straphangers, often tough critics of the subway system, praised the MTA for its improvements on breakdowns, cleanliness and in-car announcements. They report notes:
- The car breakdown rate improved from an average mechanical failure every 134,795 in 2008 to 170,314 miles in the 12-month period ending May 2010 — a gain of 26%. This positive trend reflects the arrival of new model subway cars and better maintenance of Transit’s aging fleet. We found sixteen lines improved (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, B, E, F, J/Z, L, M, N, Q, R, V and W), while five lines worsened (2, A, C, D and G) and one stayed the same (1).
- Subway cars went from 91% rated clean in our last report to 95% in our current report. We found that twenty lines improved (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, L, M, N, Q, R, V and W) and two worsened slightly (2 and J/Z).
- Accurate and understandable subway car announcements improved, going from 90% in our last report to 91% in the current report. This likely reflected in part the increasing use of automated announcements on ’new technology“ cars. We found eleven lines improved (1, 3, B, D, E, F, G, J/Z, L, Q and W), five worsened (2, 6, 7, R and V) and six did not change (4, 5, A, C, M and N).
In terms of how various subway lines performed, the Straphangers offered up these top-line observations:
- Breakdowns: The M had the best record on delays caused by car mechanical failures: once every 1,045,886 miles. The G was worst, with a car breakdown rate sixteen times higher: every 60,039 miles.
- Cleanliness: The 7, L and V were the cleanest lines, with only 1% of cars having moderate or heavy dirt, while 11% of cars on the dirtiest lines — the J/Z and R — had moderate or heavy dirt, a rate more than ten times higher.
- Chance of getting a seat: We rate a rider’s chance of getting a seat at the most congested point on the line. We found the best chance is on the B line, where riders had a 68% chance of getting a seat during rush hour at the most crowded point. The 2 ranked worst and was much more overcrowded, with riders having only a 27% chance of getting a seat.
- Amount of scheduled service: The 6 line had the most scheduled service, with two-and-a-half minute intervals between trains during the morning and evening rush hours. The M ranked worst, with ten-minute intervals between trains all through the day.
- Regularity of service: The J/Z line had the greatest regularity of service, arriving within two to four minutes of its scheduled interval 93% of the time. The most irregular line is the A, which performed with regularity only 83% of the time.
- In-car announcements: The 5, E, L, M and W lines had a perfect performance for adequate announcements made in its subway cars, missing no announcements, and reflecting the automation of announcements. The R was worst, missing announcements 25% of the time.
The Straphangers say they publish this report every year because the MTA is hesitant to release broad report cards of their service. Howard Roberts’ Rider Report Cards went the way of the dodo after one and a half cycles, and the Straphangers have continued to push Transit for information on how trains perform. Lately, the authority has released more data about on-time rates and the like, but nothing as comprehensive as the Straphangers’ efforts have emerged from Transit. “We hope,” the advocacy group said, “that these efforts — combined with the concern and activism of many thousands of city transit riders — will win better subway and bus service for New York City.”
Postscript: The data in this year’s report still includes the V and W lines because the Straphangers conducted their survey before Transit implemented the June service cuts. Next year’s report will show the impact the cuts had on the system. For an entertaining look back at a system vastly improved, check out WNYC’s unearthing of the 1985 State of the Subways report. Today, we worry about litter; twenty five years ago, we worried about broken doors and cars with working lights.
As part of its budget-paring efforts, New York City Transit has allowed its system’s cleanliness to slip. Fewer cleaners are available to tend to stations and subway cars, and work shifts that are empty due to sick days are often left unfilled so that the authority does not need to pay out overtime. As such, the trains have become dirtier, a new report issued today by the Straphangers Campaign says.
The annual report, entitled the Shmutz Survey, found that only 50 percent of all subway cars were considered “clean” in 2009. That total represents a seven-percent drop from 2008. “It’s as clear as the grime on a subway car floor: MTA Transit cuts in cleaners has meant dirtier cars,” Gene Russianoff, campaign attorney for the Straphangers, said. “And more cuts to come means more dirt for subway riders.”
For those along Sixth Ave. looking forward to impending M train service from Middle Village to Forest Hills, the news is even worse. Cars along the M were rated the dirtiest with only 32 percent checking out as clean. On the other hand, those in use along the C and 6 lines were the system’s cleanest. A whopping 65 percent of cars along those two lines were deemed clean.
But what exactly does it mean for a car to be clean? According to the Campaign, workers examined the cleanliness of train cars at various times during the day from September to November. The campaign checks the floors and seats but does not account for litter. A “clean” rating means that cars were, according to guidelines, “basically dirt free” or had “light dirt” (“occasional ‘ground-in’ spots but generally clean”). Cars are not clean if they are “moderately” dirty with a “dingy floor [or] one or two sticky dry spots” or “heavily” dirty with “any opened or spilled food, hazardous (e.g. rolling bottles), or malodorous conditions, sticky wet spots, any seats unusable due to unclean conditions.”
The Straphangers’ findings clash with Transit’s own internal metrics. While the Straphangers found a deterioration in cleanliness, Transit’s own data found that 95 percent of cars — up from 91 percent in 2008 — were clean. The two sides could not pinpoint why such a great discrepancy between the two figures existed, but the MTA has long disputed the Straphangers’ methodology.
No matter the differences, the Straphangers urged the MTA to monitor the reductions in resources available for subway car cleanliness, and Transit, in a statement, acknowledged how its own financial troubles have led to dirtier trains. “With the current budget challenges being faced by MTA New York City Transit, we acknowledge that some subway car floors may not be as clean as our customers expect or deserve,” the agency said. “However, we will monitor conditions and shift forces as necessary. We also take the opportunity to remind customers to pitch in and help keep the subway as clean as possible by utilizing proper refuse receptacles.”
The last point is one worth examining. It’s true that the declining numbers of available cleaners will inevitably lead to dirtier cars and stations, but the riders themselves are part of the problem. As I wrote in April, many riders treat the subway car floors as their own personal garbage cans. If people were more mindful of their garbage, if they carried out what they carried in and didn’t spill food or drinks on the floor — in fact, if eating weren’t allowed in the subways — the trains would simply be cleaners. Perhaps in an era of fewer cleaners, that’s the way to keep the trains tidy.
The holding lights might be on, but who knows why? (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)
When it comes to on-board public address systems, Transit just can’t win. Sometimes, the train announcements are non-existent or inaudible. Other times — the new R160s come to mind — the announcements are deafeningly loud, repetitive and downright uninformative. In a city that prides itself on its collective ability to complain about everything, subway train announcements are right there at the top of the list.
But what if the train announcements aren’t there when they need to be? What if straphangers have no idea why a train is delayed, where Transit may be rerouting them or how a potential emergency could impact a commute home? According to a recent study issued by the Straphangers Campaign, that is exactly the problem underground. While regular announcements are generally audible, those concerning delays are hard to hear, if they’re even uttered at all.
According to the report, 80 percent of the so-called “basic announcements” are “clear and accurate.” Yet, 55 percent of announcements regarding delays and service disruptions face problems. The report say the statement from the conductor was “inaudible, garbled or incorrect.” Transit requires an announcement at the time of the delay and again two minutes later. It is, then, discomforting to know that nearly half the time, no announcement is made.
“We’re glad basic subway car announcements are improving, but disappointed most riders are being left in the dark to cope with delays and reroutings,” said Cate Contino, Campaign coordinator who oversaw the survey.
Not surprisingly, the line-by-line breakdown shows a clear dichotomy between the newer cars with their prerecorded announcements and the older rolling stock still in service. On the 6 and the M, the Straphangers’ ratings claimed to hear “clear, ungarbled and correct” announcements 100 percent of the time
The 4, 5, 6, L, M and N lines performed the best in making basic announcements. Our raters heard basic announcements that were clear, ungarbled and correct for a perfect 100% of the time on the 6 and M; all the top-performing lines had automated announcements and performed perfectly or near perfectly. The 4, 5, L and M all had scores of 98 percent or higher. The D, G and 7 lines performed the worst with marks of 61 percent for the G and 62 percent for the D and 7. When I ride the D, I hear station announcements sometimes, and the absence is notable.
Transit issued a brief statement in response to the Straphangers’ report. “We are continuing the effort to improve communications with our customers in all areas, including announcements made on board trains,” the agency said. “While the inclusion of digitized voice announcements on our newer subway car classes has made a huge difference in the announcement quality, we are also working to make certain that train crews keep customers informed when issues arise that may affect their trips.”
This is one of those areas where the MTA’s technology will eventually catch up with the needs and demands of the riders, but even then, people will be unhappy. Is it better to know why the train is sitting in a tunnel for 25 minutes by being bombarded with reminders and automated messages every 120 seconds or are we better off, literally and figuratively, in the dark? It’s important for rider sanity and safety to keep all informed of the goings-on underground, but after hearing for the umpteenth time that the MTA is “apologizing for the unavoidable delay,” I almost yearn for those cars with inaudible announcements.