The R Train is the Fifth-Worst Subway Line

At least it isn't the C-train, and at least it isn't 1999 anymore. (Photo by Hey Ridge)
At least it isn’t the C-train, and at least it isn’t 1999 anymore. (Photo by Hey Ridge)

The R-train is the fifth-worst train in the system, according to the annual subways report card issued by the Straphangers Campaign. Or tied for 14th best, if you’re a glass-half-full kind of person!

Of course, this is nothing new. Straphangers has been telling us for years that the R train is near, but not quite at, the bottom of the list. And anyone who rides around multiple trains on a regular basis knows that the R train is bad, but still not as bad as the C train.

Yet I can’t help but think it’s time for the Straphangers campaign to come up with a new metric for grading the subways.

1) Force-rankings don’t measure the overall quality (or lack thereof) of the subway system.

Ranking the subways, 1 through 19, makes it sound like the best train is pretty good, and the worst train is pretty bad, as if we were looking at the NFL standings at the end of the year. In truth, I would be perfectly happy riding the fifth-worst train, or even the system’s flagship bottom-feeder, if “worst” meant “still pretty damned good.” On the flip side, riders on the 7 train—judged to be the best—are already calling BS.

2) It doesn’t measure improvement (or deterioration) over time.

An important measure of how bad the R train is now: how much worse was it a few years ago? There’s no easy way to know that using the Straphangers report card. Even the “MetroCard rankings” assigned to each line, each year, is a useless statistic over time. The best possible score today is $2.75, versus $1.25 in 1999, not because the subway is twice as good now, but because it’s twice as expensive.

Fortunately, Straphangers has kept some statistics that are comparable over time, showing that there really is a big difference in what it meant to be best and worst in 1999, and what it means to be best and worst in 2015.

R-Train Report Card 1999-2015

Certainly the MTA has made tremendous marginal improvements. Announcements are much clearer now, and not just on the new trains, where the scores are close to 100 percent. The “dirtiest” train is still pretty clean these days. And it’s good to know that the line with the most breakdowns in 2015 is far more efficient than the average line in 1999. On the other hand, it’s frustrating to see that the frequency of service in the morning has actually decreased slightly. And 81 percent doesn’t seem like a good stat for regularity of service. It’s not so bad, folks! Except one day a week when God only knows what you should expect.

3) We’re on the edge of Fall 2015, and this report card is largely based on 2014 data.

We’ve already seen data direct from the MTA that shows indicators like on-time performance have been much worse in 2015 than they were in 2014. By using the second half of 2014 in its report card, the Straphangers Campaign captures a significant amount of data from the Montague Tunnel reconstruction, a time when the Brooklyn segment of the R train was running a shorter, more reliable route with newer trains that didn’t break down as much.