Home Straphangers Campaign Straphangers: 83% of announcements accurate, audible

Straphangers: 83% of announcements accurate, audible

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Alex C March 31, 2011 - 1:37 am

As a rider of the F and N, I can say that some conductors manage to even mess up with pre-recorded announcements. Either due to bad training, laziness or stupidity, occasionally conductors will say an announcement that is pre-recorded themselves (in a completely inaudible or mumbled voice). Occasionally they will interrupt a pre-recorded announcement about transfers to do the same, despite adding nothing that the pre-recorded announcement didn’t already say. The N’s issues are nothing big, usually just some conductor making an announcement about train traffic.
With the F now having the Culver viaduct work, some conductors amaze me in that they even got the job. Most do the proper thing and simply reset the system that monitors distance to know when to make announcements at 7 Avenue since distance is much shorter for express tracks between Church and 7 Ave in that case. This ensures that all announcements remain in sync. Some leave it out of sync until we get to Carroll and make announcements themselves. Some simply turn off the FIND system until we get to Carroll and instead make mumbled, slurred announcements for 7 Avenue and 4 Avenue. Some don’t even bother to put in the proper route (express, or local with skipped stations listed “Will Not Stop”) and leave the train to announce the skipped stations. The MTA, and the TWU need to get this straightened out. I’m a supporter of unions, and the union in this case needs to get its bad apples straightened out. They are making all workers look bad with their incompetence. While most are excellent at what they do, too many conductors are inadequately trained or lazy or dumb, or a combination.

John March 31, 2011 - 9:41 am

I’m curious, how do those FIND displays work in terms of being reset with the correct information? All too often, on various lines, I’ve encountered the displays completely messed up, but the audible announcements accurate. For example, in Queens, Jamaica Center-bound, the display might just constantly say that the next stop is 42 St-PABT, while the audible announcement correctly states that the next stop is Forest Hills-71 Av. Is this something that can easily be fixed en route, and if so, why does it happen so often?

ferryboi March 31, 2011 - 3:12 pm

Don’t even get me started on dimbulb bus drivers who, for some lame reason, cannot take the time (2 seconds?) to press a button and make sure their destination signs are correct. Sometimes half the buses on the 42nd St Crosstown say they are going east when they are headed west, and visa-versa. I wonder how many tourists looking to get to the UN ended up on 12th Ave.

Really, isn’t part of their job to make sure the signs are right? All these dolts have to do is look up for half a second to see if the sign is correct.

JP March 31, 2011 - 7:01 am

It’s annoying when the conductor plays the same message eight times in a row but I understand if they’re trying to catch someone’s attention. Too bad they have to harass a thousand other people at the same time.

C train gets my vote for the most squealy PA system.

Al D March 31, 2011 - 9:37 am

Please DO NOT block the doors while the train is in the station! Played over and over and over and over and over by some angry L train conductor on a train that has no room for even 1 more poverbial sardine. Hey, try adding a few more trains to the line instead of being angry at the passengers for a lack of service.

nycpat March 31, 2011 - 11:18 am

It’s not necessarily done on purpose. Sometimes there is a pause and they touch the screen too many times.

Scott E March 31, 2011 - 9:04 am

I was once on an “F” train and a passenger passed out in my car. While others tried to catch him from falling to the floor, I used the Passenger Intercom (it was a new R160) to alert the conductor, who came to the car to check out the situation before calling for medical help. We sat in the station, doors open, for probably 15 minutes without announcements, because the conductor was busy performing crowd-control and other duties at the car until – and after – the police and EMS personnel showed up. The only indication to the rest of the train that something was wrong is if they peeked out the door and saw the commotion.

You can’t fault the guy for not making announcements; there was a more important issue at stake at the time. And I admit, sometimes conductors are lazy, but sometimes you just need to be a bit patient and understanding. (For the record, this was an older gentleman who probably got dizzy or disoriented, there was no indication of substance abuse, homelessness, etc. It happens).

Al D March 31, 2011 - 9:35 am

Good point. In this case, and since the TWU is absoultely adament about a 2 person train crew, the motorman (sorry, TO) should have made the annoucement.

Donald March 31, 2011 - 2:37 pm

Why should the TO make aunnocements? Don’t they have their hands full since they are operating the train?

Al D March 31, 2011 - 3:30 pm

In Scott E’s post, he indicates that the conductor was pre-occupied and did not mention the TO. Since the conductor could not make the announcement, the TO should then make the announcement. If the train is sitting idle in the station, how are the TO’s hands full operating the train?

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CenSin March 31, 2011 - 9:57 am

There are also those conductors who abuse the “we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us” annoucement. That pisses me off supremely, especially when it’s most definitely not train traffic.

One N train stopped in the midst of the Coney Island yard to pick up some track workers. The conductor immediately played the train traffic delay annoucement. Climbing aboard, the track worker jokingly said, “that’s right, I’m a train!”

And when being held to leta train catch up or otherwise skip us, the train traffic is technically not ahead of us; the train dispatcher is letting that train get ahead of us!

Clarke March 31, 2011 - 10:48 am

I’ve had (an?) F train conductor(s?) during morning rush making announcements like “The next stop is W 4th Street. Transfer is available across the platform to the uptown B and D trains. Transfer upstairs to the uptown A, C, and E trains to Penn Station and Port Authority.” Perhaps a bit too much information, but definitely clear and helpful and obvious that the conductor ENJOYED their job (these were said in lieu of the prerecorded announcements). Always made me smile.

jon March 31, 2011 - 11:00 am

One thing about the red light announcements and the train traffic ahead of us. I would much rather have that somewhat useless announcement, than nothing. I would rather know that my train is being held temporarily for a somewhat vague reason, than to sit in the tunnell, wondering what is going on, and hoping that the train didn’t break.

SEAN March 31, 2011 - 12:21 pm

A few anouncements.

The next stop will be Blah Blah Street, transfer to the Blah, Blah & Blah trains.

Do to construction we will be Bypassing Blah Blah, Blah Blah, Blah Blah & Blah Blah stations. To reach these stations transfer at Blah Blah Street & take a downtown Blah train.

Eric March 31, 2011 - 2:27 pm

I would be happy with announcements in the station when I’ve been waiting for the G train for 25 minutes during rush hour.

Farro March 31, 2011 - 3:37 pm

In my experience, announcements in stations are way worse (completely garbled and staticky) than those on trains.

Donald March 31, 2011 - 2:40 pm

Isn’t bashing aunnocements kind of petty? Most people ride the train regularly and could find their way from Point A to Poit B even if there were no aunnocements. I only find aunnocements useful in unusual situations, like when a local train becomes an express train and skips the stop that I need to get off at.

ferryboi March 31, 2011 - 3:14 pm

There’s a conductor on the “R” train who still announces transfers “to the IRT” at stations where the BMT/IRT connect. I love him.

John-2 March 31, 2011 - 3:21 pm

I still fondly remember the PA announcements on the old R-16 trains — if the U.S had had those things during World War II, they never world have needed the code talkers to get undecipherable messages past the Germans and the Japanese. Today’s system isn’t perfect, but it’s still way better than what it was 20-40 years ago.

Alex C March 31, 2011 - 5:05 pm

Regarding John’s question, they can reset the FIND from their control panel and tell it at what station the train is so the train makes the correct announcements and knows from where to continue. I don’t know if resetting it fixes the displays that get stuck. Hopefully someone else here can clarify, as I’d like to know myself if that’s a memory issue or something that happena because of 3rd rail gaps and whether resetting the info fixes it.


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