Student study of MTA elevators gets the city listening

Hunter College students may not be able to fix the elevators in their own school, but they have made strides to improve the elevators in subway stations around the city.

Nearly 100 students from the sociology and urban policy and planning department conducted an observational study on the ridership and the condition of MTA elevators last semester, and their work has been published by the NY Daily News.

The study was led by sociology professor Peter Tuckel and urban policy and planning professor William Milczarski. Undergraduate and graduate students enrolled into two of Tuckel’s courses: Introduction to Research Methods and Intermediate Statistics, joined two of Milczarski’s classes, Quantitative Approaches to Urban Analysis and Urban Data Analysis, to do the research.

The professors have students do a study each year for a simple reason: “If you want to learn research, you have to do research,” Tuckel said.

The goal was to observe conditions of the elevators at 64 stations in the subway system, noting the profile of the riders as well. The stations were randomly selected, but students were able to study a station near their neighborhood, said Tuckel, who was also a principal investigator.

“We stayed as unassuming as possible to ensure all behaviors being studied were natural,” said senior, student researcher Erin Longo.

Longo visited the elevators in Far Rockaway, Queens, twice, observing for an hour each time and mixing it up between rush hour and not. Both times she took notes by hand and recorded data on printed tally sheets. She and the students then transcribed the data into an excel spreadsheet.

All in all, the students observed 10,528 passengers making 3,852 trips in the course of about 43 days this fall. At the time of their observation, 98 percent of elevators were working. “It was a pleasant surprise,” said Milczarski. “Maybe it was good day,” added Colin Wright, who was also a principal investigator. Wright works for the TransitCenter, a foundation dedicated to improving public transportation.

Longo was not surprised to see one of the elevators at her station, Far Rockaway – Mott Avenue, not in service during both of her visits. If an elevator was not in service and the station had multiple elevators, they observed the one operating correctly.

Tuckel believes that it is important for political figures to understand that elevator users are not limited to people with a disability. There ended up being a few categories of riders, including those who were carrying a large package, which ranked at number one, followed by elderly citizens 65 years of age or older. Ranking in third and fourth respectively were riders carrying a baby stroller and obese riders.

The group determined that a third of the elevators were considered unclean, and that some subway riders will opt to climb the stairs rather than ride the elevator because of the foul smells, most notably the odor of urine. Students observed this by riding the elevator and simply glancing around to not draw attention to themselves.

Sociology students at Hunter

The professors published their full observational study on Hunter’s website. Its timing led to coverage from news outlets including the Gothamist and Patch after the death of Malaysia Goodson, a mother who fell down subway stairs while carrying a stroller. That attention made students realize that maybe this isn’t your average college class.

“I was expecting it to be treated like a regular school project,” said Longo. “I started to realize the positive impact of the research I was a small part in could have on the city.”

Next up for professors Tuckel and Milczarski: a study of New York City bicycle riders. Students enrolled in Introduction to Research Methods 240, Intermediate Statistics 425.01, Urban Data Analysis 710, and Quantitive Approaches to Urban Analysis 311 will perform the study.

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