Countdown to Relief: Riders Alliance Analysis Shows That Pilot “Lettered Line” Countdown Clocks Are an Unmitigated MTA Success
Riders Alliance Pushes Immediate Expansion of Program, Recommends Putting Real-Time Train Locations Online for Riders and Apps to Use
The first independent evaluation of the MTA’s experimental countdown clock pilot program on the lettered lines, released by the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, produced a glowing review, finding that the new technology is largely accurate and useful to riders. The report called the program an “unmitigated MTA success” and pushed for its rapid expansion to all lettered line stations. The Riders Alliance report also recommended steps to make the program as helpful as possible to transit riders, including posting real-time train location information on the internet so that riders and app developers can make use of it.
The new countdown clocks, installed as a pilot program because the technology is experimental, are the culmination of a long-held rider request: to bring real-time train arrival information to lettered subway lines. Numbered lines have had countdown clocks since 2006. At Governor Cuomo’s urging, the MTA began to experiment in August 2016 with pilot technology that could allow rapid installation of lettered line countdown clocks: “beacons” that send signals between transponders on trains and receivers in stations, allowing a central network to register train locations each time a train enters and exits a station.
The Riders Alliance analysis is the first independent review of the accuracy and reliability of the countdown clocks. The analysis, conducted by making direct observations in subway stations, found that the lettered line countdown clocks accurately predicted the arrival of trains 59% of the time within one minute of the trains’ eventual arrival, and 81% of the time within two minutes. Numbered line countdown clocks, which use different technology, remain more accurate, predicting eventual train arrivals within one minute 85% of the time and within two minutes 97.5% of the time.
“The new countdown clocks are an unmitigated MTA success,” said John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance. “As technology evolved, the MTA continued to look for ways to provide this information to riders, and they found an option that works. Subway riders don’t need 100% accuracy; we need to know generally when the train will come, so we can make educated choices about how to get around town. New Yorkers are an anxious people, but we’re calmer when we know where our train is. The MTA should expand this program as quickly as possible, and should make the information available online for riders to use.”
The report makes a series of recommendations for what the MTA should do to make the new countdown clocks as helpful as possible, including:
• The MTA should follow through with its proposal to expand the countdown clock program to every station on the lettered lines by the first quarter of 2018.
• On the same time frame, the MTA should introduce web functionality: riders should be able to access real-time train information from their smartphones and on the internet.
• Real-time train arrival information should also be made available to app developers, so independent companies and individuals can incorporate the information into transit apps and design new ones for riders to use.
• The real-time data should be integrated into existing “On the Go” kiosks and other displays in stations, which continue to display misleading schedule information instead of accurate train location data.
• Stations with transfers should display on-platform countdown information—not just about the trains that stop on each platform but about every connecting train in the same station, so riders can make educated choices about which train to ride.
• The MTA should add real-time bus and other data to in-station displays so riders can make quick and smart decisions about transferring from subways to buses and other modes.