Thursday, April 12, 2007

Five minutes late.....right on time!

Schedules. Without them, I guess the railroad just wouldn't run. What amazes me about the LIRR's schedules is the precision in which they are established. Perhaps it goes to that level of detail to instill confidence in its riders. People feel good thinking that they can catch the 5:38:32PM train to Ronkonk... Ronkohoma... Ranchomonga... whatever, way out on eastern LI. Unfortunately, what the LIRR has not yet figured out is that you really need to follow the schedules you set.

Let's take the 8:05AM train from Kew Gardens as an example. What impresses me most about that particular train is how consistent and precise it is in its lateness. So much so, that passengers begin sauntering down to the platform at about 8:08AM. Why? Because the train rolls into the station at exactly 8:10AM. You can imagine how upset passengers are when the train, on rare occassions, arrives "early" at 8:05AM. Interestingly, the LIRR has had every chance to correct this issue because it publishes new schedules about every 2 months. You would think the new schedule would just show an 8:10AM train, or maybe an 8:09AM train as a compromise for the lazy commuters. Yet it remains listed as 8:05AM. Perhaps the LIRR just can't make it any faster, so it leaves that train on the schedule as a constant reminder of a goal it just can't achieve. It's almost like the pair of "skinny pants" that we haven't worn in years but still keep hanging front and center in our closet because, one day, we'll fit in them again. Hey, LIRR, get rid of the skinny pants, you're not fooling me!

The NYC subway system has schedules, too. Not many people know that, but even more importantly, not many people care. That is probably the case because there are usually enough trains during rush hours such that a passenger knows that he or she can just get the next one. But have you ever noticed how much less frantic the riders are that take the subway, even on off-peak hours? Sure, you get the occassional wacko who yells "hold the door" even though he is a half of a block away from the station, but the majority of the commuters just calmly wait for the next train. Penn Station, on the other hand, looks like a jailbreak at evening rush hour. I'm sure that most of the people trying to catch a 6PM train are big NFL fans, because I've seen runningbacks with less impressive moves. Someone should tell Eric Mangini to buy monthly passes as part of the NY Jets training. I'll stop on that point, but please stay-tuned for a future discussion on the madness at Penn during rush-hour.

Imagine if we all could arrive at work later than we are scheduled to, but still get paid for the full day. We can just tell our bosses that its close enough. It wouldn't be long before our paychecks start reflecting our lateness.

I suggest to the LIRR that it give a long hard look at its schedule, and just face the facts. I also recommend that it stop trying to come up with schedules down to the millisecond. How about this as an incentive? If a train is 5 minutes late three times a month due to reasons other than an accident or weather, then monthly ticket holders should get something in return - like a coupon for a free Ben & Jerry's or Starbucks coffee. That won't help us passengers get any closer to our skinny pants, but at least the LIRR will get in shape.

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