Know your 1, 2, 3s and Cs and Rs: A Guide to the Best and Worst Subways and Buses in NYC

By Chelci Bidos


It’s 9 a.m. and you have to be to work in half an hour. You have been waiting for the past twenty minutes for the bus. You soon come to realize that the chance of getting to work on time is slim to none.

Well attention all commuters, this article will tell you exactly which trains and buses to avoid, and which ones are a sure fire way to get you where you need to be and at the time you need to be there. is a campaign that was founded in 1979, by the New York Public Interest Research Group in response to a dire need for better service within the New York City Transit System. Their goal is to play a leading role in new investments in metropolitan transit through rider organizing, coalition building, research, reports, and media.


According to Straphangers, the 1 train ranks 8th for best subway line.  It is scheduled to come more often than most subway lines, and not only are you more likely to catch the 1 train, but 52 percent of passengers are more likely to get a seat on the 1 during rush hour with the system average at 46 percent.

While these benefits might persuade you to rethink how you get to work or school, there are some downfalls to the 1 line. The 1 arrives with below-average regularity with 70 percent of its trains arriving at regular intervals, while the system average is 79 percent; it also breaks down much more often than the average lines. The 1 train travels approximately 95,000 miles in between delays caused by mechanical failures, in a survey taken in 2010 by Straphangers. It also performs below average on in-car announcements with 76 percent, while the system average is 87 percent.

R Train

If your daily travels take you on a different route, the R train ranks 11th for best of the 18 subway lines, according to the Straphangers campaign. Unlike the 1 however, the R train is scheduled to come less often than most subway lines, and is also less clean than average. The percent of cars that are dirty is at 91 percent, with the system average at 94 percent. Like its partner, the R train breaks down more often than those on the average line with approximately 102,000 miles traveled in between delays caused by mechanical failure, which was taken in the same study conducted in 2010. It also performs below average with in-car service announcement with announcements only being made 78 percent of the time.

4 and 5 Trains

If you start you journey at Bowling Green the 4 and the 5 train may peak your interest. The 4 train ranks in at 14th, and the 5 train comes in at 11th for the best subway line. If you have had a long day however, you are much less likely to get a seat on either of these trains with both approximately having only 35% of their passengers getting a seat during rush hour. The 4 train is below-average when it comes to cleanliness, and the 5 ranks above-average in aesthetic appeal. Both trains perform well however, when it comes to in-car announcements with the 4 train hitting 97 percent, and the 5 train impressively getting a near perfect score of 99 percent.

C Train

One train you may want to  avoid is the C train which ranks the worst of the 18 subway lines. The C train has the least amount of daytime service, and doesn’t run at night. It also breaks down more regularly than other system lines and performs the worst on in-car announcements.

J and Z Train

The pride and joy of the subway system, is the J and Z line. It ranks the best subway line in the entire subway system. You are much more likely to find a seat on this line, it shares the average cleanliness at 94 percent, it has the system’s highest regularity average, with 85 percent of its trains arriving at regular intervals according to the Straphangers campaign. It also performs above average with regards to in-car announcements.

Pokey Award Goes To ….

For a more unique look at the MTA, every year the Straphangers campaign holds its “Pokey Awards” in which an award is given to New York City’s slowest bus services.

In December of last year, the Pokey award went to the M50 which clocked in at 3.5 mph according to a report published on the Straphangers website. While the M50 might have taken the cake, the B41, in Brooklyn, the Bx90 in the Bronx, the Q58 in Queens, and the S48 in Staten Island also were reported to be the slowest lines in New York City.

And finally for those of you who don’t mind the snail’s pace of city buses, the most unreliable buses reported were the B44, the Bx41, the M101/102/103, and the S78.

Jessica Brown a full-time student and mother, takes the S78 when her son needs to get to his doctors appointments, and the 1 train when she has to go to school three times a week.

“I’m lucky that the train I use during the week is a reliable one. I mean, it does have its occasional delays, but nothing out of the ordinary, you kinda expect that to happen though,” Brown said. “I feel bad for my friends that come to my school from different boroughs, who have to take trains that either never show up, or break down all the time. They have no other way to get to school and are sort of stranded, and are always late. It sucks.”

While Brown may be part of the “lucky group” who can depend on her train to be there most of the time, she hates that she has to depend on a bus that never shows up.

“If I had a dollar for every time the S78 didn’t show up, I would be so rich right now, I would be able to buy a car, and so chances are I wouldn’t have to depend on it. It is by far the worst bus ever. I think we would be better off not having it,” Brown said.

“I really don’t even see the purpose of having a bus that doesn’t come, you are always at the bus stop anxiously waiting because you don’t know if you will be late for work or school, or even be able to make it to work or school, it’s a shame, I mean isn’t a reliable bus service what part of our tax money is supposedly going to?”


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