New Penn Station departure board tells riders to “check schedule”

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This is one of NJ Transit’s new departure screens at New York Penn Station.  It’s supposed to show every station on the NJ Transit system and what train to take in order to get there.

The only problem is that the information is incomplete.  About a quarter of the stations show “*see schedule for next trip.”  There’s no departure information for the Raritan Valley Line or Port Jersey Line. Only spotty stations on the Main, Bergen County, and Pascack Valley Lines is displayed. For instance, Allendale on the Main/Bergen is shown, but there’s no departure listed for Broadway – Fair Lawn.

This is a shocking failure of public information.  Consider this:  If you walked up to an information booth and asked the employee for the next train to Bridgewater, and she said “Check the schedule,” it would seem either downright rude or just incompetent.

The information on the screens isn’t even the same as what’s in the printed timetables.  This picture was taken at 5:16 pm. According to the Bergen County Line timetable, someone going to Allendale should get the 5:35 pm departure, and change at Secaucus.  For some reason, the screen says to get the 5:21. Departure screens are supposed to show the latest possible departure, not the earliest.  Otherwise, someone who misses the 5:21 wouldn’t know that they can take the 5:35, causing them to miss the connection.

The screens also fail to show all transfer opportunities.  For instance, it shows the next departure to Chatham at 5:43.  This train gets in at 6:31.  But by getting the 5:18 train and transferring at Summit, it’s possible to get to Chatham at 6:14.  A rider going to Chatham might think that there’s not way to get back home until the 5:43 train, and then spend 15 extra minutes in transit, even if he is in a hurry.

In this case, incorrect information actually has negative value. Some people will always prefer to take a direct train and get home 15 minutes later, but there is also a group more time-sensitive of people who are willing to transfer if it means they can get home sooner.  There are two options here, but the screens only show one. Instead of letting the passenger make the decision, the screen effectively makes that decision for the rider.

But at the same time, the screen tells East Orange passengers to take the 5:30 to Montclair and change at Newark. This might be because East Orange is only served by trains from Hoboken, but Chatham gets Hoboken and Midtown Direct service.

Compare this to the LIRR’s station-by-station departure board:

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Evey station is covered (Mets-Willets Point is used for special events service).  Even stations requiring a transfer, like Malverne, are shown.

The LIRR did it right.

 

 

 

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