Train Delays, The New Subway Plan And The Perception Of Time

Neuroscientists focus on the brain’s need for predictability. “When it comes to things that are rewarding or punishing, things that are randomly timed are more intense,” said David Eagleman, a Stanford researcher, who hosted the PBS series “The Brain.” “This is because the brain is a prediction engine and is always trying to tell the future.”

And so, with random train stoppages proliferating, the lords of the subway have proposed a deal:

They will take away subway service on long segments of several lines at a time on nights and weekends — thousands of trainless minutes a week, for several years, so that they can install new signal systems. In return, they say they will make those random delays go away or at least significantly diminish their occurrence by modernizing the subway’s signals within 10 years, rather than the 40 years they had said it would take.

The plan, unveiled on Wednesday by the subway head of the New York City Transit Authority, Andy Byford, would cost $19 billion and need to clear steep political hurdles.

To Dr. Eagleman, it sounded pretty good. “What we don’t like are bad surprises,” he said. “As long as something is predictable and you know something is going to be shut down all weekend, you can plan around it.”

Riders are not so sure.

Richard Safo, a warehouse worker from the Bronx, knows the feeling of being held hostage by time bandits. He has a long, two-train commute to take his son to prekindergarten in the East Village.

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