When the signs don’t say what to doBy
Following these signs will get a subway rider nowhere. (Photo by flickr user Hello Turkey Toe)
New York City Transit has a sign problem. Every week, countless signs proclaiming various service changes are plastered throughout the system, and they have begun to multiple to such an extent that no one reads them. Worse still are the ones people read but can’t understand. No wonder few can track what’s really happening over the weekend.
Now, generally, the plethora of signs lead to many headaches but few real problems. Maybe we don’t really know which train is going to take us to our destination on Saturday, but with some patience, we’ll get there nonetheless. The problem pops up, though, when the signs simply do not tell us what to do.
Earlier this week, I examined just that problem. Every subway car has an emergency brake, and yet, Transit’s message has been one of caution. In case of emergency, don’t pull the emergency brake. In that piece, I discussed a sign each car has up with instructions about emergencies. The sign — click the image to enlarge — hangs beneath the brake and supposedly tells straphangers what to do in an emergency.
This sign is highly problematic. It purports to be “Emergency Instructions,” but then has some rather odd directives. If there is a fire, do not pull the emergency brake. If there is a medial emergency, do not pull the emergency brake. If the police are needed, do not pull the emergency brake. Three do-not’s and no do’s. Anyone reading this sign could be forgiven for not having a clue what to do. When exactly should someone in trouble pull the emergency brake?
The message from Transit is to pull the brake only when someone is in danger of getting injured by a moving train. If a rider is stuck in the doors as the train begins to pull away or if some passengers spot someone on the track in danger of getting struck by the train, it is perfectly reasonable to pull that emergency break. You wouldn’t know it from the sign.
On an institutional level, the lack of emergency brake preparedness gets to another problem MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder identified in his 100 Days report on the state of the authority. The MTA has an information problem. As the booklet he produced says, “Information on planned service changes can be overwhelming and extremely difficult to understand.” The same holds true for these emergency instructions.
For the MTA, better communication with customers is vital toward gaining more acceptance as a player in the New York political scene. People do not trust what they cannot understand, and that effort at explanation can start with something as simple as emergency brake instructions or as complicated as a convoluted service change poster. Iin the aftermath of this fall’s D Train murder in which the emergency brake was pulled and riders in one car were trapped with a killer, Transit is currently looking into ways to better present its emergency brake rules. After all, in the event of some emergencies, pull the brake. Good luck for now figuring out which ones.