Next-train arrival time signs - are they really just Spoiler Alerts?

Some of our transit colleagues in New York have posited that next-train arrival signs are really just spoiler alerts.

In 2007, the New York City Transit Authority began installing LED signs
on subway platforms that display estimated wait times for arriving
trains. Unfortunately the information is little more than trivia: except
for a few stations, it is only visible to travelers after they’ve paid
their fare, so the data has little bearing on commuter decision-making.

Their primary effect, then, is to erode faith in the system, to create
expectations that can’t always be met, to raise false hopes, and to
erase the mystery and magic of the wondrous system that transports more
than five million riders a day.

These LED signs also threaten historical social behaviors, rendering
obsolete the time-honored New York tradition of leaning over the
platform edge with the hope of glimpsing headlights from an approaching

This video is worth watching.


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  • I make a couple trips where the incoming trains sign has the potential to make a real difference. I live by State and Lake, so I sometimes get to choose between Brown and Purple (north side main line from Belmont southward -- can take Red and Belmont and Fullerton besides) or Green and Orange (Roosevelt northward). A Purple or Red train gets me home faster from the north than a Brown, and a Green gets me to my stop faster than an Orange, on account of not having to loop the Loop. Not sure if any lines and stops in NYC would have this effect...

  • Kudos to those guys for taking the time to craft their sign. Hilarious. Now that I'm living a train-centric life, I love the arrival signs. It will be nice to know how long I will have to freeze my ass off in the middle of 290 during the dead of winter.

  • There are signs you can see before you pay at Chicago and Franklin. I've not been downstairs at either Fullerton or Belmont to see if there are signs down there--does anyone know?

  • There are signs above the main entries at Fullerton and Belmont on the Red Line - though lots of people don't look up to see them...

  • As TheSquire pointed out, an arrival times sign are also visible before you pass through the fare gates. Also, it's helpful in deciding whether to take the Red, Brown or Purple line. And of course, this data will be most helpful when it's available to app developers so we can get it on our cell phones and computers.

  • Signs have been posted at the station entrance at Davis long before more southern stations had them. Does this NY complaint apply to the CTA anywhere?

  • I know that for the most part the CTA has signs at the street level. But I'm mainly running this piece because it's just funny!

  • I like the signs specifically because they keep me from having to lean over the edge to look for headlights. People like to do that?

  • These type of signs were in use when I visited London in 1990! On tracks shared by multiple routes, it displayed the train that was coming and the ETA. This was on the Tube, not commuter rail.

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