Monday, January 31, 2011

Why subway countdown clocks are important

New York Magazine explains why countdown clocks in transit stations are valuable.
Perhaps it’s because waiting is psychically painful. In 1985, psychologist Edgar Elías Osuna established the two specific factors most contributing to this discontent: the minutes already lost to the wait and the uncertainty of how much delay remains. This isn’t terribly surprising; we’d expect that the longer one must wait, the more stress one experiences. But his data also revealed something else, which is that this increasing stress response is effectively canceled out when the individual knows in advance when service is likely to come.


Unknown said...

Countdown clocks are nice when you're on the platform, but it really is just psychological comfort. They're a whole lot more useful outside the station, as a decision aid. Do I run for the train, or do I have time to grab a cup of coffee? By the time you're on the platform, really, there's not much you can do with that information, other than continue to wait (though for a defined period).

Perhaps they're also even more useful for buses, and particularly stops where multiple bus routes pass by; on a subway line, the infrastructure itself communicates a certain sense of frequency (one almost never has to wait more than 10 or 15min for a subway), while bus frequencies can be much more variable (5min or 1h), meaning that time information is much more useful, both in the psychological reassurance sense, as well as the practical, time for coffee (or other errands) before the bus comes sense.

Unknown said...

I agree that the clocks are potentially more useful before you go through the turnstile, and many of the NYC stations do offer this.
The NY MTA is rolling out a bus locator service this week that will likely go systemwide.
And with the service cutbacks much of the off-hour subway service is infrequent enough that knowing when a train is coming may change travel decisions.