Friday, October 8, 2010

Digital Bulletin Boards for Subways

In an effort to provide real-time information to riders, the MTA is installed large LCD monitors at Grand Central Terminal and Atlantic Terminal that display the constantly updated status of subways.
Dan Brinzac for the New York Post
Image courtesy of

MTA Chairman Jay Walder has been pushing for practical customer service in today's digital age since his arrival at the MTA. Technologies such as digital bulletin boards and countdown clocks can be found in subways and metros around the world.
Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

The news from the New York Post:
The agency plans to outfit the entire transit system -- from trains to bus stops to even private businesses near bus shelters and subway entrances -- with digital screens that show real-time statuses of buses and trains, as well as service announcements.

For example, the screens -- a prototype of which is now being tested at Grand Central Terminal -- would note delays but also offer alternate train or bus routes for commuters.

New York 1 has a video rundown of the story
A new pilot program from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will use digital screens to alert subway riders to service disruptions and alternatives before they head to their stop.
While I commend his work in bringing the New York Subway into the digital age, I feel that the recent news that cell phone and possibly wi-fi service will be made available underground, is a better return-on-investment. Everyone checks their phones for updates on the minutiae of their daily lives; status updates, restaurant reservations, tweets, baseball scores, blogfeeds, etc. and there are countless mobile phone apps and app developers who want to meet those varied demands. They compete with one another to provide a better product or service. So why not do the same with subway and bus schedules, service changes and itinerary planning. Instead of making such large capital investments in big LCD screens, installing them, wiring them, and constantly maintaining them in all 277 underground stations, why not allow that info be delivered by mobile phone service providers who can then package/customize the information to the needs of an individual rider and compete with one another to keep the product fresh and useful. Have the LCD screens in high traffic subway stations, but not necessarily everywhere. And while subways and metros around the world have these screens available in almost every station, they do so because their investment in such technology predated the arrival of mobile information technology and new media. Here's my analogy; why wire a new, multi-story house with an expensive intercom system (à la "Home Improvement") when the residents will most likely "ping" each other from distant rooms/floors with the cell phones they carry around with them almost always.

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