You know sometimes something weird happens on a subway, like the local train for some reason shows up on the express line, or an entirely different train altogether turns up on your usual track? You get on warily, and go for a few stops, and for a while it seems like you’ve made the right decision. But then, at clutch time, when you need to choose whether to hop off the train or take one last roll of the dice (Perhaps you’ll end up right where you want to be! Or perhaps you’ll end up on Roosevelt Island), the conductor comes over the loudspeaker and says: “Ladies and ____lemen the ___ stop will be ______erhorn. To repeat, the ___ stop will be Broad____ . If you are traveling to ____lin Street _____ now and ____for the ______ train on the ____bound track.” You look around. Some other passengers are panicked. Others are asleep (Oh, to be a less destination-concerned rider). You ask strangers what to do. You have twelve seconds to decide. As there is no consistency to the success of subway snap judgments, you have no past experience to guide you. The doors close. Three minutes later, you are stranded on the dusty, cold platform at Nostrand Ave., wondering how on earth you ended up on the Dreaded G Train in the first place.
Apparently, the unintelligibility of subway announcements during delays or disruptions is something that happens 55 percent of the time, according to a survey by the Straphangers Campaign. So next time you are trapped underground, between stations, as the clock ticks past curtain time for the Broadway show for which you have tickets, and the MTA employee charged with at least telling you why your five-year anniversary is ruined can’t be understood over the loudspeaker, you can at least feel comfortable knowing that the majority of commuters are feeling the same rage you are. (The problem is usually the loudspeaker system on old trains, but we unscientifically estimate that about 80 percent of passengers in that situation are imagining some moronic MTA employee mumbling or speaking quietly on purpose. Those monsters! May someone stick gum on their seat so that their pants are ruined just before a big interview!)
The Straphangers note that the worst trains for staticky announcements are the D, G, and 7 lines, while the best are the 6 and the M. And when all announcements — like stop announcements or “STOP BLOCKING THE DOORS ON THE BACK OF THE TRAIN” — were included in the survey, the rate of clarity increases to 80 percent on average. Which means it’s only when you want to know what’s going on most that you’re the most likely not to understand an announcement.