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The 7 Train Is City's Best — and Worst — Subway Line, Studies Say

By Nicole Levy | September 17, 2015 11:29am
 The 7 train in Queens.
The 7 train in Queens.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The 7 train is the best subway line in the transit system, according to the Straphangers Campaign's annual "State of the Subways" report card, which was released Thursday.

It's also the worst, according to a recent policy brief by the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC).

The Straphangers Campaign, a transit interest group, evaluates subway lines on six measures of service: the number of breakdowns, car cleanliness, the number of seats available, the amount of scheduled service, the actual regularity of service and the quality of announcements in subway cars.


The CBC, a civic nonprofit, ranks trains only by the safety and functionality of their stations.

The 7 ranked highest among subway lines on the Straphangers Campaign's report card because it outperformed other subway lines in terms of its scheduled frequency of service (the MTA says the line should have two-and-a-half minute intervals between trains during the morning rush hour) and the cleanliness of its cars, according to official MTA transit data for all or the second half of 2014.

The 7 train also performed above average in terms of the number of delays caused by mechanical breakdowns and seat availability during rush hour, the report said.

But the 7 line came in dead last in the CBC's analysis because data collected by the MTA on subway station conditions shows that 37 percent of the 618 structural components — such as stairs, platform edges and ventilators — in its 21 stations failed to meet the MTA's safety and performance standards in August.

Compare that to the 6 train, which the CBC praises as the best line: only 15 percent of the 1,288 structural components at its 38 stations are considered to be in a state of poor repair, scoring 3 or higher on the MTA's rankings of component conditions (with 1 indicating the best condition and 5 the worst).

According to the Straphangers' Campaign, the 5 and B tied for the worst subway lines in the system. The 5 suffers in terms of the regularity of its service, with delays due to breakdowns and seat availability. Problems on the B line include scheduled service, delays and subway car announcements.

"Passengers on the top lines — such as the 1, 6, 7, E, J/Z, and L — hands down get a much better ride for their MetroCard than those on its worst, such as the 5, B, C, M or R," Campaign attorney Gene Russianoff said in a statement. "Disparities abound. Some lines stink; others just need work." (Continue reading after the jump)


Both studies agree that New York City subways are going downhill. The Campaign report card found that the overall rate of subway car breakdowns increased by 7.9 percent — from an average mechanical failure every 153,382 miles to one every 141,202 miles — in 2014 compared to the year before. 

The task of keeping the city's 467 subway stations in good repair is a Sisyphean one, the CBC brief notes. As much effort and as many resources as MTA CEO Thomas Prendergast funnels into the stations' rehabilitation, heavy use continuously erodes their condition. The MTA assumes a station’s “useful life” is a mere 35 years. 

So what's the MTA doing to whip the subway system into better shape? Over the next four years, the agency plans to spend $1.338 million on projects improving its structural components. That breaks down into $890 million for the repair of 420 structural components at 179 different stations, as well as $448 million for the overhaul of 20 stations.

If the MTA is actually going to get all of the city's subway stations fixed, it should divert a fraction of the $5.5 billion it plans to spend on expanding New York's mass transit system to refurbishing stations, the CBC concluded. It should also manage its projects to avoid delays and costs that run over budget, and partner with private firms and nonprofits to finance its project.

In the meantime, we'll try not to trip on any crumbling steps at 7 train stations.