Jan 8, 2008

Q Square, 5 Circle, or 7 Diamond?

Thousands of New Yorkers make this decision every day. Is it faster to take the sure thing incoming local train or wait for the no-where-in-sight but most times expedient express line? Given a few set variables most grizzled locals can quickly spit out an answer calculated by the subconscious algorithm they've built on years of commuting experience. I've always wondered what one can infer about another's personality based purely on their subway platform decisions.

Riders are continually optimizing multiple considerations each time they swipe their Metrocard: travel time, comfort, safety, surety of destination, crowd, view, etc.
Not knowing how each person prioritizes this list makes predicting their behavior and thus inferring anything about their personality quite difficult. Many make choices considering only travel time. Others don’t mind taking the scenic local track in exchange for a luxurious lumbar supported seat. One might ignore their normal intuition to politely stalk an attractive fellow traveler (where do you think all those “missed connections” come from?). Misgivings on whether express trains are operating normally through unfamiliar terrain force even experienced New Yorkers into suboptimal decisions.

There are certain moments during the week where the variable of travel time is undoubtedly paramount to train riders.
5:30pm on a Friday in Grand Central Station is one of those moments, and I occasionally have a front row seat. Observing waffling straphangers as local and express trains simultaneously approach seems akin to the curious wonder of watching a lab rat in a maze. Why do people so commonly duck into the local train, wait a few nervous moments, then dart out the door across the platform onto the express track? Should I feel guilty for smirking when a merciless conductor punishes their indecision by leaving them stuck trainless on the platform? But what happens when a local train approaches during rush hour and you have a multiple express stop distance to travel. Are you the type of person who will just take the sure thing or will you bank on the experience that waiting will get you there faster? I'll spare you the details of my decision making neurosis and just admit to being a local kinda guy. I'm rarely in a rush, choose people watching scenery over speed, and just earnestly enjoy taking a long subway ride.

So which are you? Express or local?


leenabean said...

i am local in the extreme. the subway is the last place left where I can't be reached by cell phone/blackberry and it's an excuse to read. for the same reason, i get to the airport a good two hours early--empty time to read a book and stare into space. exception: rush hour, natch. if i'm gonna be squeezed into some dude's armpit, i want to be on the express.

hos before bros said...

If an express train arrives first, but my intended destination is a local stop, I may still take it instead of waiting for the local. Why? Because unless it's pouring or the wind is especially fierce that day, I would rather walk a few extra blocks than spend additional time underground sitting on the train. One of the reasons I live here, is because I love to walk. I love to walk our city blocks.

Modestmerlin said...


i am in total agreement with your assessment. the subway is a rare and unlikely refuge from the never-ending distractions of the city. there are saturday afternoons where i'll just take the local 'till the end of the line and back.

Modestmerlin said...


no wonder your early friends are always waiting for you even though your on time.

Unknown said...

I never enjoy the travel. My algorithm minimizes the time spent on the subway. If it's two express stops or less, i take the local when it comes first. And if i know the route, i choose the subway car that minimizes the distance to transfer line.

Unknown said...

Sure thing, every time. Once you're on the train, the thought process ends and you can sit back, or hang on, and just enjoy the ride.

Unknown said...

local...for sure.

Unknown said...

Xin chào,

Mình nghĩ vấn đề này đã rõ rồi còn gì, rất hay. Các bạn đã góp ý rồi mình không có ý kiến gì thêm.

Sẵn đây mình xin giới thiệu bên mình chuyên cung cấp dịch vụ vận chuyển hàng đi Hà Nội, vận chuyển hàng đi Sài Gòn, vận chuyển hàng đi Campuchia với cước phí cực hấp dẫn.

Ngoài ra các bạn nào có nhu cầu thuê xe tải chở hàng hoặc thuê vận chuyển container bằng đường bộ thì alo mình nhé.

Thanks !

Nguyen Minh.