Q Is for Quality, C Is for Crummy: Best and Worst Subway Lines of 2012

Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night will keep the Q-train from its appointed rounds. (gmpicket/Flickr)

Naturally, everyone thinks their local subway line is the worst, but that is why we have science and the Straphangers Campaign, to crunch the numbers and tell us who really is the worst.

Now in its 15th year, the State of the Subways report rates the values of each of the city’s 20 subway lines, assigning them a price out of a possible $2.25 (the cost of a MetroCard, natch). No line even came close, unfortunately, which begs the question of whether or not New Yorkers are getting their money’s worth, but the Q-train topped the list this year at a value of $1.60. It is the first time the Coney Island-to-Astoria line has been the best since 2001.

Meanwhile, the C-train continues to be the worst in the system, worth a measely 85 cents—the only line worth less than a buck. It has now held this ignominious position for the past four years, as well as in 2001 and 2007, thus taking the bottom spot 40 percent of the time over the past 15 years.

The Straphangers Campaign attributes this in large part to the C-train having the oldest subway cars in the system, which breakdown once every 64,324 miles traveled. The next worst in this category is the G-train, which breaks down once ever 79,858 miles. (Due to lack of seat availability, one of six metrics measured by the campaign, the G-train did not receive a MetroCard rating, so all the haters can still insist it is the worst in the system.) The best maintained trains are a sibling of the C-train, the E-train, which has entirely new trains and the pleasure of running express in Queens and only broke down once every 817,000 miles traveled.

“The ‘C’ has obviously been a poor performer for awhile,” the Straphanger’s Gene Russianoff said standing inside Times Square station earlier today, seat dripping down his forehead, not to mention those of the assembled reporters and the subway riders scuttling by.

Another Queens line, the 7-train, which took top honors in 2009 and 2010, came in second place with a value of $1.55, while last year’s top train, the J/Z line, came in third, also at $1.55. Rounding out the top of the list were the 1-train at $1.50, the oft-maligned L-train at $1.45 and the 6-train at $1.45.

New cars are not everything. The Lexington express, which even has those new fangled arrival signs, came in at the bottom, with the 5-train worth $1.10 and the 4-train worth $1.15. Mr. Russianoff attributed to the insane crowding on the line, which not only makes for an unpleasant ride but causes trains to back up, leading to delays. The A-train was the next worst, followed by the B-train and the 2-train, all of which earned a rating of $1.15. Prices for all 20 lines can be found in a PDF here.

In addition to having the most breakdowns, the C-train also ranked last for the amount of scheduled service, which a train coming only every 9 to 10 minutes during rush hour, compared to the best arrivals for the 6-train, which arrives every 2.5 minutes during rush hour. Granted, the line does have the benefit of those newfangled robo-sensors that allow dispatchers to run trains closer together (in a bid to cope with the aforementioned congestion). The second most run line was the 7-train, the second worst the M-train.

The C-train also came in last for interior cleanliness, followed by the brownstone-beloved F-train, while the 1-train was the cleanest, then the 7-train, then, believe it or not, the G-train. The C-train scored second worst for in-car announcements while the 7-train was the worst. The 4-train and Q-train took top honors in announcer clarity. This was the only category in which the Q-train scored best, showing that consistency across the board, if not at the top, is the secret to a sound train line.

Want a seat, take the R-train or the 7-train. Forget about it on the 4-train, the 5-train or the E-train.

And while the C-train, along with the G-train, may not get much respect or come very often, both do so reliably, as does the the J/Z line, which took the top spot for regularity of service. The G-train was second most reliable to arrive, the C-train third (i.e. it may take 10 minutes, but it will typically come every 10 minutes). The most erratic trains were the 5-train, the 2-train and the 4-train.

Q Is for Quality, C Is for Crummy: Best and Worst Subway Lines of 2012