Subway countdown clocks at some stations are difficult to see, riders say

The MTA is working to install platform countdown clocks on  all lettered subway lines, but riders complain the clocks are often  difficult to see.
The MTA is working to install platform countdown clocks on all lettered subway lines, but riders complain the clocks are often difficult to see. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Even in bustling New York City, time shouldn’t be this hard to find.

As the MTA nears its goal of adding platform countdown clocks to all lettered lines, some commuters are having a hard time spotting the new LCD screens, which are generally installed one-per-platform and are occasionally hidden behind existing signage.

Jamar Defreitas, 33, of Bushwick, leaned over as he sat on the steps of the 14th Street-Eighth Avenue station, trying to see when the next uptown C train would arrive. Unfortunately, a ceiling fixture hung squarely in front of the minute display of the platform’s new countdown clock.

“I noticed them popping up everywhere. It doesn’t make any sense where they put these,” he said. “You can’t even see them.”

Vivian Lajoie, 22, of Valley Stream, Long Island, also conceded that the sign didn’t seem well-planned as she boarded her A train at the station.

“It’s a good idea that they’re doing it in the subways — of course they should definitely try to put [them] in a place that’s really visible, or else what’s the point?”

Countdown clocks, which display the minutes until the next arriving train, have been a feature of nearly every numbered line for years, thanks to the computer-based signal system that allows the MTA to track the exact locations of its trains.

The agency is using its existing station Wi-Fi, Bluetooth beacons at platforms and accompanying receivers on trains to more quickly install the clocks in all remaining stations of lettered lines that don’t feature the more modern signal system by the end of the year.

There’s a method to the MTA’s installation, according to Shams Tarek, an agency spokesman. The new countdown clocks are generally placed in the middle of each platform for consistency, so that customers know where to look regardless of what station they’re in, he said.

“Aggressively rolling out countdown clocks across the system gives customers immediate access to real-time information — not only on the platform but on the Subway Time app right on their phones,” he said in a statement. “Real-time arrival information is absolutely essential and we’re proud to deliver it on platforms, on phones using Wi-Fi and cell service available in every station, and directly to our customers.”

The Bluetooth clocks are now online in stations along the R, C and, more recently, the E and G lines. A total of 296 stations, or slightly more than half of the system’s total of 472, now feature countdown clocks, according to the MTA.

Ignacio Albana, 49, a resident of Dumont, New Jersey, who commutes into Manhattan for work, said the agency should revise its approach. As he waited for a train on the Broadway line in Times Square, there was just one, dual-sided clock on the platform to pass along arrival times.

“At rush hour, you’ll never get to it,” he said. “This is Times Square; there are thousands and thousands of people, all these train lines, the Port Authority (Bus Terminal) and just one clock. There should be more than one, at least.”