Feature

Editor's Letter: A margin for error

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's admission that it keeps two train schedules for its commuter lines—one for the public and one for train crews—is the most cheering news I’ve heard in ages. &lt

More often than I’d care to admit, I am the last fool running down the platform as the doors of the 7:02 flash and beep, signaling that they are about to close. It is already 7:02, and by rights the conductor should leave me gasping on the platform, muttering sheepish profanities as the train pulls away, my fellow commuters gazing out the windows at me in silent reproach. But—wonder of wonders!—the doors stay open and the conductor waves me in. What accounts for this surprising act of forbearance? Is it pity? No, The New York Times reports this week, it is policy. For decades, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York has quietly kept two schedules for all of its commuter lines—one for the public, and one for train crews. On the crews’ schedules—the real ones—all departures are one minute later than the posted times. This is, without question, the most cheering news I’ve heard in ages.

Yes, I know: It’s just a minute. But it’s more than that—a reason to reconsider my flagging hope for the human race. In our modern, digitized world, there is no longer any margin for error; there is only yes or no, right or wrong, absolutely essential or unemployed. Press a “2” instead of a “3” on some bureaucracy’s automated phone system, and you are doomed to wander forever in a hell realm of unwanted options. For a railroad to silently and systematically grant laggards and procrastinators like me some leeway, to make the 7:02 the 7:03 without telling us …. It’s an act of grace. I don’t know about you, but I can use all the kindness and grace I can get.

William Falk

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