Subway Countdown Clocks Are Good For Business

In Boston, cafes near public transit say they’re benefiting from newly installed trackers that tell customers when trains arrive.

Subway Countdown Clocks Are Good For Business
[Image: Oxford Circus, London via Tupungato / Shutterstock]

An unquantifiable wait is an anxious wait. Research has shown that when people stand around for public transit without any indication of when it will arrive, they become anxious and perceive the wait to be longer than it actually is. The solution: countdown clocks that display real-time information about arrival times.


These countdown clocks might also be a boon for businesses close to public transit stops. Boston started rolling out countdown clocks in its subway system, the T, in August 2012, and according to the Boston Globe, the clocks are paying off for the coffee shops and snack stands nearby.

Cantabrigian Angelica Daniels, 25, said she knows the trend is fact–and not just because she finds herself more tempted to buy coffee when she has a few minutes to wait. Riding the down escalator at Porter Square station, she said, she often sees commuters in front of her descend just deep enough to steal a glimpse of the countdown clock–and when they see there’s time to spare, turn around and sprint back up the stairs, returning with a Dunkin’ Donuts cup in hand.

Image: Bagel shop, NYC via Daryl Lang / Shutterstock

As datasets go, the experience of one Angelica Daniels, 25, does not an empirical fact make. And the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority doesn’t have a good record of its vendor sales at present. From a design standpoint, though, it makes sense that these clocks would boost business (especially in places where transit options don’t zoom by every few minutes.) Commuters who are normally too anxious about missing a train may be unwilling to risk their commute for a donut. Put a visible sign up that tells riders they have 15 minutes before a train departs, and they’re more willing to slow down and stand in line for five minutes at Dunkin’ Donuts. Good for the customer, good for the business. Maybe not great for our waistlines.

[H/T: Boston Globe]

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.