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November 9th, 2013

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02:51 pm - Trains in time anomalies or just some busted electronic equipment?
In recent months the MBTA has been updating the little electronic signs what tell you the time and display any audio announcements. Both of these features are very useful. The new features on the Red Line, for example, now also tell you how many more minutes you are going to have to wait until a train comes your way. (Any wait over twenty minutes is optimistically displayed as "20+".) This would also be incredibly useful if it actually worked.

Sometimes it works; other times you just have to take whatever the sign is saying on faith. On the inbound platform at Davis, at least, things is weird. Trains are often listed as due in "1 min" for, say, five minutes. Or ten. Sometimes the ETA will change magically before your eyes to "2 min" while you wait, which means either someone or something is trying to adjust for lost time darnit, or that the train is actually rolling backwards now. I cannot discount it; you cannot put anything past the MBTA at this point.

The display board gives you the ETAs for the next two trains coming your way, which you'd guess would put an end to conductors telling a crowded platform the ol' lie "There's another train right behind us", but it doesn't. (Those wily conductors have been known to actually tell the truth from time to time.)

Happily, the display board can also provide thrilling and gripping display-watching drama on par with anything HBO can give you, only without the violence and sex. (The cussing, however, stays in. Hooray!) Last night Sonya and I watched as the Braintree train, which at this point had been due in 1 minute for fifteen, was nearly lapped by the Ashmont train behind it. The Ashmont's minute countdown was actually working, and we began to take bets on whether the Ashmont train would in fact pass the Braintree train in mid-tunnel, which wasn't likely and we weren't expecting it, or if the Braintree train had just given up and never even left in the first place, which was slightly more plausible.

The Braintree train arrived first and we believe the Ashmont train was helpfully pushing it.

So in conclusion, unless you like staring at ads for products no longer meant for your demographic, there ain't much else to look at on them subway platforms.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 9th, 2013 08:48 pm (UTC)
Getting predictions for inbound at Davis, that close to the end of the line, is very tricky. If the train hasn't left Alewife yet, you're in a bit of a miasma of uncertainty. Especially if the schedule has gone off, and trains are leaving Alewife when it seems like a good idea to the inspector, and not when they're scheduled to. I believe they've tried to optimize for never having a train show up in less time than was predicted, since that seems like the thing most likely to really upset someone. But I have noticed that the "1 minute forever" problem seems to be very bad on some days. In contrast, predictions in both directions at South Station are pretty much perfect.

I know the guy who does this and work with him pretty often. He's a good guy. This part in particular is a hard problem, and Davis inbound is probably the worst of the worst. And chock full of nerds watching closely, so the poor guy probably gets an earful regularly.

[User Picture]
Date:November 9th, 2013 10:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this -- I found this post confusing because my main station (Broadway) is eerily accurate, and I really appreciate that times are posted (especially OUTSIDE the fare gates, so I know whether to start running). We're rarely in Davis, but my husband & I often go through south station and harvard as well -- please pass along our thanks to your friend! :-)

and Spatch, I totally agree that that would drive me nuts. I hope it gets better in Davis.
[User Picture]
Date:November 10th, 2013 11:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, South Station and Park Street always have consistent times, and I really appreciate knowing when there really is another train close behind a crowded one. Alewife and Davis are close enough to each other that I can understand the system, especially if it's trying its best to be predictive, can get a little confused. (But it's patient!)
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2013 06:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks for patiently responding to the our gripes. I know it's not easy managing a system as complicated as the MBTA, but sometimes we customers just need to blow off some steam, especially when we've just observed a noteworthy absurdity.
[User Picture]
Date:November 9th, 2013 09:07 pm (UTC)
So in conclusion, unless you like staring at ads for products no longer meant for your demographic, there ain't much else to look at on them subway platforms.

It could be worse. Montreal's metro "next train" indicators are in a corner of the advertising screen pointed at the platform. For example, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:STM-Metrovision.jpg.

Periodically they go entirely away, to be replaced by a commercial you have to watch if you want to see when the next train is coming, because you won't see the indicator come back unless you're watching the screen.

PATH's PATHVISION does something very similar in that they have the "next train arriving" indication in a crawl at the bottom of an already annoying advertising screen. But at least they don't blot the whole thing out when they show a commercial.
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2013 05:49 pm (UTC)
We've got the tracking boards in Minneapolis, for the Metro Transit buses. They're not too far off, but they sometimes do strange things like show a bus enroute, and then remove it from the board, and then put it back on the board in a panic just before the bus actually arrives at the stop.

It's useful, but quirky. And occasionally down completely.
Date:November 11th, 2013 07:23 pm (UTC)
conductors telling a crowded platform the ol' lie "There's another train right behind us"

Few things make me miss Boston as much as that.

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