The New York Times has an interesting article today about intentional lateness of trains in New York. (“The Secret New York Minute: Trains Late by Design“, NY Times). When we think about operational efficiency, we tend to characterize it by synchronization of all flows, without any type of lateness or waiting, or any type of waste, in Toyota-speak.We also say that “Mussolini made the trains run on time”, (which is apparently an urban legend), but here we read that the trains in NY are late on purpose.
Every commuter train that departs from New York City — about 900 a day — leaves a minute later than scheduled. If the timetable says 8:14, the train will actually leave at 8:15. The 12:48 is really the 12:49. In other words, if you think you have only a minute to get that train — well, relax. You have two. The phantom minute, in place for decades and published only in private timetables for employees, is meant as a grace period for stragglers who need the extra time to scramble off the platform and onto the train.”
According to the article, the trains quickly make up the minute: at all other stops, the public timetable prevails.
Beyond the sheer anecdotal value of this fact, there are a few interesting issues here: First, This one-minute is basically the safety buffer the trains’ system carries to improve service in its largest market. In order to reduce the number of people that are late to their trains, the conductors wait another minute and recover this minute later by driving faster (I guess). Second, we usually associate operations with improving efficiency, but this is a good example, I think, of intentional inefficiency, targeted at improving service.
On another note, and I believe no one have studied that empirically, but if people are frequent commuters, they should have figured it long ago, and start being late to the train. Unless the belief is that in NY, with more tourists than any other major US city, people will not be aware of this “lateness”.