2005-08-18 / Top Stories

Despite Respectable Report Card, “L” Service Has Declined

By Neil S. Friedman

The NYPIRG Straphangers Cam-paign last week issued its eighth annual “State of the Subways” Report Card, rating the No. 6 Lexington Avenue line as the best of 21 subway lines with a “MetroCard Rating” of $1.35 (out of $2.00) and Brooklyn’s N service as the worst with a rating of 60 cents.

Even though the Canarsie line, with its 24 stations, was rated seventh overall, the news for daily commuters was disappointing as the 11-mile L line, which operates between Rockaway Park-way in Brooklyn and Eighth Avenue and West 14th Street in Manhattan, was the city’s top-rated service two years ago.

In 2003 the L line garnered top honors for cleanliness, but in the latest report it is rated one of the dirtiest lines, along with the N, with at least one-third of its cars having “moderate or heavy dirt.” That’s compared to six percent for the most sparkling routes — the 1 & 9 and the W.

Available seats on the jam-packed Canarsie line in rush hours are hard to come by with the report citing riders only having a 26 percent chance of getting one, the worst rate in the city. Riders on the V line get a seat 84 percent of the time.

The 42-page report is based on an extensive review of official data on subway service, much of which has not been released before on a line-by-line basis. It includes detailed profiles of 22 lines and a Straphangers Cam-paign “MetroCard Rating” for 21 of the lines. (The L profile is below and the full report may be viewed at http://www.straphangers.org/statesub05.)

The report profiles six measures of service, based on recent data from MTA New York City Transit, largely covering the last half of 2004. The measures for each line are: the amount of scheduled service and the regularity of train arrivals; mechanical failures of subway cars; chance of getting a seat at the most congested point; cleanliness of subway car floors and seats; and adequacy of announcements.

In a statement issued by New York City Transit, spokesman Paul Fleuranges criticized the report’s methodology — but not its accuracy — and pointed out that since 1996 the MTA has spent an average of $60 million a year to im-prove subway service. He also noted that the average number of weekday trains has risen 12 percent since 1995 from 7,000 to 8,100.

Fleuranges was particularly critical of the report’s criteria for ranking the availability of rush hour seats. “The subway system,” he said, “was never designed to offer everyone a seat during rush hour, particularly at the most crowded points along a route.”

The MetroCard Ratings are a shorthand tool to compare lines and are based on a formula developed in consultation with independent transportation experts. A line could receive a rating of $2.00 if it scored, on average, in the top 5% on the six measures of service.

“Some riders get a lot more for their money than others,” said Gene Rus-sianoff, Straphangers Campaign staff attorney. “The big gaps we found show either the need for better management (as in car cleanliness and announcements) or the unfair distribution of resources, such as in the rate of car breakdowns and chance of getting a seat.”

Russianoff noted that the report was being issued at a critical time for the city’s subways, with concerns about a looming financial crisis and fears for subway security; Albany’s failure to approve the MTA’s 2005-2009 capital program; and a recent rash of fires and major delays.

The reduction in service for L riders comes on the heels of the controversy over the MTA removing conductors from the line this summer. The change is part of the authority’s $300 million “Robotrain” system. The most divisive part of the project involves one-person train operation, or OPTO, a cost-saving measure that eliminates conductors. Though a computer will run the trains, the MTA has pointed out that an operator can override the automated system in case of an emergency and will be at the controls at all times.

Planned changes on the L train have run into several difficulties, including an aborted drill last April that left train doors open during a smoky fire. Pas-sengers were also forced to evacuate themselves, and people enacting disabled straphangers were left inside the car as others were rescued.

City Councilman Lew Fidler, who represents many constituents who commute via the L train, has led the opposition to the one-man trains citing safety concerns and its vulnerability to computer hackers getting into the system and causing havoc.

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