Home Straphangers Campaign Q Train Quandaries: Straphangers says Brighton local the tops

Q Train Quandaries: Straphangers says Brighton local the tops

by Benjamin Kabak

From Coney Island to Astoria via Canal St., the Q train offers up a culinary tour of New York City. The train starts at Nathan’s, stops a few blocks from DiFara’s, swings past Chinatown and ends in a hot bed of Greek dining. One day, it’ll service the Upper East Side too via that Second Ave. Subway. It is also, according to the latest edition of the Straphangers’ State of the Subway report, the best train in the city.

While the C train was rated the worst line for the fourth year running, the Q came out on top for the first time since 2001. “The subways are a story of winners and losers,” Gene Russianoff, Straphangers Campaign senior attorney said of the results. “Riders on the best line – the Q – have much more reliable cars, frequent service, subway car cleanliness and car announcements than riders on the worst line, the C. Sharp disparities among subway lines can be seen throughout the system.”

I’m a frequent Q train rider, and many people I know are as well. It’s tough to say if I’d rate the line the highest in the system due to what often seem to be excruciating waits between trains and the generally slow ride over the Manhattan Bridge. So how did the Q train win exactly?

According to the Straphangers, though, the Q won because it had the best P.A. announcements and above average performance in avoiding delays, car breakdowns, seat availability during rush hour and car cleanliness. With some of the newer rolling stock around, Q trains break down once every 690,000 miles, and from experience, it’s possible to nab a seat at rush hour.

Much like last year, meanwhile, the C train with its decrepit rolling stock ranked last again. It won’t move up the list until new cars arrive as the Straphangers dock it for frequent breakdowns, car cleanliness and inaudible announcements. Same as it ever was.

As part of the report card, the Straphangers also assign a value to each subway line, and here is where I take issue with the report. The organization is ostensibly a rider advocacy group, but they don’t view any subway line as worthy of the cost of the fare. The Q gets only a $1.60 rating while the C is worth 85 cents. Most lines are worth between $1.20 and $1.40, far less than what all but the most frequent users of a 30-day Metrocard pay.

Last year, the Straphangers acknowledged this complaint: “Some riders may find this scale too generous, believing that performance levels should be far better than they are now. Other riders, who value transit service over other ways to travel in New York City, may believe the subways and buses to be a bargain.”

On the bright side, the winner this year is “worth” 15 cents more than last year’s victors. Still, these ratings seem to be cheapening transit at a time when it needs some support.

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Larry Littlefield August 1, 2012 - 11:51 am

I’d like to see the MTA publish the average cost per rider of running each line — total cost, paid for by fares and otherwise — next to the Straphanger’s estimate of value. (As it did for buses some years back).

Perhaps the Straphangers could then move on to how much a NYC public school education is worth at the different schools.

In Fiscal FY 2010, according to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, New York City spent $23,472 per student on public schools, compared with an average of $22,861 in the Downstate New York Suburbs, $18,546 for New Jersey, and $12,502 for the U.S. as a whole. Spending on instructional (teacher) wages and benefits (including retirement benefits) totaled $13,469 per student in NYC in FY 2010, or $269,380 per 20 students, or $161,628 per 12 students.


Alon Levy August 2, 2012 - 8:48 pm

Back when School Matters was online, it pegged New York’s spending at $17,000 per student, vs. $21,000-25,000 at the most coveted suburban districts in Westchester and Long Island. The trend was for New York to go up (it was 13,000 about ten years ago and 11,000 in the late 1990s) and the suburbs to stay the same so it’s possible New York has overtaken the suburbs since, but it’s a recent development.

DavidDuck August 1, 2012 - 4:22 pm


Ben, I know there are a lot of issues various folks have with the straphangers.

But I gotta say, it’s pretty funny reading you telling another group to get in line and “support transit.” I don’t really think that’s your MO, so funny seeing you say that to others…

Benjamin Kabak August 1, 2012 - 4:24 pm

You honestly do not believe that supporting transit is my M.O.? Then what is it, exactly?

DavidDuck August 1, 2012 - 4:51 pm

No, did not mean that. However, your approach to supporting transit can be quite critical, including pointing out poor service, etc. Which is fine and good!

It just does not seem qualitatively different than what Straphangers are doing with their ratings.

DavidDuck August 1, 2012 - 4:53 pm

Which is to say:

supporting transit is your M.O.
getting in line to support transit isn’t so much.

Benjamin Kabak August 1, 2012 - 5:22 pm

OK. I understand what you’re saying.

To be a little more clear, I’m not expecting the Straphangers to be lock-step supporters of all things transit, and I think it’s important for organizations and outlets — whether its Gene and the Straphangers, the RPA, me, Streetsblog, TransAlt, etc. — to recognize short-comings and areas of improvement on an individual basis as well as an overall need for systematic support for transit. That said, I’m uncomfortable with the leading subway advocacy group devaluing a subway ride by at least 65 cents off the base fare. I don’t think that helps anyone’s cause.

DavidDuck August 1, 2012 - 10:43 pm

Yes, I do see your point. Do they offer any basis for their absolute dollar valuation? I understand their rankings. Do they explain how they convert those to dollar valuation?

(Apologies for my laziness.)

Andrew August 2, 2012 - 9:10 pm

Here’s the methodology.

What you’re looking for: “As described below, under the formula used, a line whose 2011 scores fell on average at the 50th percentile of all lines for all six performance measures would receive a MetroCard Rating of $1.25. A line which matched the 90th percentile of this range would receive a line rating of $2.25. However, some lines which ranked high on some measures of performance may have received only an average MetroCard rating due to poor relative performance in other areas.”

And a bit further down: “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.” Yet it’s invariably perceived by many readers as a dollar-based value judgment, and I agree with Ben’s concerns. If the rankings absolutely must be expressed in dollar figures, then $2.25 should be the average, not the 90th percentile.

Bolwerk August 2, 2012 - 12:18 am

I guess Ben described the problem pretty well awhile ago, but Straphangers is rather troubling as an advocacy group. They don’t put a lot of thought into the future, and they don’t really care to bother with the underbelly stuff that keeps the system going – and creates most of the problems.

To me, they seem like their only interest is making sure the rails and buses that exist hang around, which oddly segues very non-offensively with the TWU’s M.O. to make sure no jobs are ever lost. Simple ideas that could improve the system are irrelevant as long as fares stay where they are, and complex new construction isn’t so interesting to them either.

To top it all off, I doubt anyone outside the press takes them very seriously. Making the system better is a multi-year commitment, and their main concern about next year is the fares might rise – though they dare not challenge the reasons.

mike d. August 1, 2012 - 9:24 pm

The report is full of flaws.

Kevin P. August 1, 2012 - 10:12 pm

I’ve been commuting between Kings Highway and midtown on the Brighton line since March of 1994, and I don’t know what you’re talking about with respect to “excruciating waits,” even on weekends and in the evening.

Jeff August 2, 2012 - 9:07 am

Compared to the numbered lines and some of the more frequent lines like the E, F and L, the wait for Qs seem comparatively long.

Maybe I’m just spoiled.

Media Hit: ‘Good Day New York’ at 7:15 a.m. :: Second Ave. Sagas August 1, 2012 - 10:59 pm

[…] « Q Train Quandaries: Straphangers says Brighton local the tops Aug […]

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines August 2, 2012 - 8:59 am

[…] Q Train Ranks 1st, C Brings Up the Rear (WSJ, NYT, SAS, TransNat, […]

Kevin Li August 2, 2012 - 2:56 pm

I would have picked the (7) as the best, having ridden the (7) and (Q). The (7) arrives so frequently, I don’t have to schedule to make sure I don’t miss a train, and it’s fast (and even faster when express). The (Q) only has the less-car-breakdowns and clear announcements going for it, and the real pain in the ass for me is what happens at DeKalb Avenue (waiting for the (N)), Prince Street (waiting for the (N)), and 34 Street–Herald Square (waiting for the (N) or (R)).

Bolwerk August 2, 2012 - 3:11 pm

I wouldn’t say that. The ironic thing is the 7 is “so frequent” in the off-peak direction. In the peak direction, only non-local stops get the benefit of that frequency. Local stops in the peak direction have about 0.5 the frequency of the express stops.

Andrew August 2, 2012 - 9:17 pm

If you commute from, say, 46th St. on the Flushing line to Wall St. on the 4/5, you will probably have a substantially longer wait – over twice as long – for your 7 train than for the 4/5. But according to the Straphangers’ methodology, the 7 is much more frequent than either the 4 or the 5, giving it a boost in the ratings.

Bolwerk August 2, 2012 - 3:14 pm

Also, frequency isn’t really a fair measure of “best.” Some lines don’t deserve high frequency due to the nature of their ridership. That’s not a negative.

Andrew August 2, 2012 - 9:20 pm

From the methodology:

First, we identified each line’s “instance of greatest crowding” using New York City Transit’s 2010 Weekday Cordon Count. We did this by isolating for each line the most crowded 1-hour interval at the most crowded point entering or exiting Manhattan’s Central Business District (CBD).

That’s simply not correct. A cordon count simply counts people passing an imaginary line – in this case, a line drawn around the Manhattan CBD. That isn’t necessarily the most crowded point on the line!

Alon Levy August 3, 2012 - 12:29 am

Do you have convenient data for where the most crowded points are? The SAS EIR gives counts for various segments of the Lex, showing the most crowded point is departing Grand Central southbound in the am peak, but for everything else I have to rely on anecdote. (The 7 peaks just before 74th, I believe – it definitely empties at 74th, but there’s a secondary peak right before QBP, and I’m not sure it’s smaller than the 74th peak.)

Andrew August 6, 2012 - 12:11 am

I don’t, sorry.

I doubt the 7 peaks before 74th – that transfer is pretty time-consuming, and the 7 local still hasn’t picked much of its load yet. (The express doesn’t even stop there.) Both the express and the local peak approaching Queensboro, I believe.

Off the top of my head, some lines that probably peak before reaching the CBD are the 1 (103rd is probably heavier than 66th), 2/3/4/5 from Brooklyn (the peak load point is probably approaching Borough Hall), F from Queens (Roosevelt Island is heavier than Lex/63rd), F from Brooklyn (the peak load point is probably at Bergen, although that may change when the Bleecker transfer opens), B/Q from Brooklyn (7th Avenue is probably heavier than Atlantic or DeKalb), R from Brooklyn (I don’t know if the peak load point is Pacific or DeKalb or Jay, but I’m sure it’s not Court).

But those are just my guesses.


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