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.