Tag: Transportation

Subways Have Schedules?!?

Have you ever left your home in a hurry, only to arrive at the train station and discover that your train doesn’t get there for another 8 minutes?

I don’t know about you, but this was one of life’s little nuisances I was hoping to do without, thank you very much.

Having grown up in Manhattan, I had become accustomed to the idea that subways arrive at random, unpredictable times, and that part of the New York experience involves sitting around and waiting for them. And let’s not forget the added bonus in the summer of getting to sweat profusely as you enter the sauna…I mean station.

Side note: Anyone else feel like taking the stairs down into the subway moves you a few miles closer to the earth’s core?

In any event, I was delighted to discover in June of 2012 that there was actually a SCHEDULE of subway trains. Drinks for everyone!!

But hold on a second… how accurate were these schedules? And more importantly, should I make a run for it, or can I calmly enter the station just as my train is pulling in? (Oh how sweet those little victories are)

But before I break out my victory dance, I would have to record and analyze some subway information, I thought to myself. After a bit of searching, I found an iPhone app called Daily Tracker, now called Lumen Trails. A bit pricy ($10 when I purchased it), but what I liked about it was its customization options.

Long story short, every time I took the subway I would track the following 5 data points (separated by commas of course):

Train, station, direction, scheduled time of arrival, minutes late

An example of an entry would be:
A, 42, uptown, 4:52 pm, 3

Note: If a train was early, I would use a - (minus) for the minutes late.

What I discovered a month or two in, was that trains were never more than 3 minutes early, and they were actually surprisingly accurate. Even more shocking, was that the majority of trains actually arrived on time or not more than 2 minutes late. Believe me, nobody was more impressed than I. Thank you MTA, for mobilizing the city that never sleeps, day in, day out.

So you might be thinking, “Woopty frickin’ do Shir!”

If so, you should probably reconsider whether this blogger-bloggee relationship is right for you. (Hint: it’s not)

On the other hand, for those of you who appreciate the punchline of a nerdy joke (such as these), here was some additional significance in my preliminary findings…

  • If I absolutely had to be somewhere on time, I had to make a run for it and arrive at the train station 3 minutes before the scheduled arrival time, otherwise I might not make the train I needed to catch.
  • Not surprisingly, after about 10 pm the scheduled intervals between trains increased significantly, and the reliability of the schedule decreased sharply. Fortunately, I’m not the party animal that I used to be, and I rarely stay out past 11 pm, especially on weekends.
  • During the year that I taught Excel classes via Skillshare, I discovered that there was an unusually high concentration of trains departing at the time I needed to leave. There was a 5:30 pm, a 5:35 pm, and even a 5:38 pm. This had to do with additional trains going to Far Rockaway and Howard Beach. No complaints from me, since each of those times worked beautifully :D.

A couple other notes

While tracking my subway experience in this way wouldn’t provide a comprehensive map of the entire NYC subway system (tear), it would however provide an extremely relevant and personalized series of insights for me. I would be able to tell with a high degree of accuracy how likely a train would be to arrive on time, given my typical subway routines.

What this kind of tracking did for me, was put me at ease and gave me more information with which to base my decisions. That is after all, what Excel is all about. It’s a tool that helps us make better, more informed decisions. You’ll be hearing this a lot from me, so get used to it :).

Some final thoughts

Interestingly enough, I tried exporting the data into an Excel spreadsheet, but never finished. This is true with a lot of my self tracking. I haven’t gotten around to analyzing it in Excel, but I know that when I do I will have a huge amount of useful information.

Don’t worry, as soon as I create the Excel spreadsheets I will provide them here for you to download, completely gratis. Until then, keep your pants on and feel free to start tracking your own data. Don’t forget to leave a comment if you do!

I’m just kidding, pants are always optional when reading this blog.