Sep
09

Transit unveils clearer signs for confusing service changes

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This visually-pleasing poster will greet straphangers at every station entrance and will replace the confounding clutter of signs Transit currently deploys. (Click the image to view a high-res version. Photo courtesy of New York City Transit.)

Conveying information about weekend service changes has never been one of New York City Transit’s strong suits. As Friday night brings expresses running local, locals running express, A trains on the F tracks and more shuttle buses than anyone can count, Transit’s signs haven’t gotten the job done. This week, though, the agency will unveil a more visual-based presentation of weekly service patterns that it hopes will keep straphangers better informed and more prepared for weekend diversions.

“We are out there on nights and weekends performing the vital work necessary to keep the New York City subway operating safely and efficiently,” Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement. “Performing that work, however, is no excuse for forcing our customers to hunt for service information. With these new designs, we are giving riders the information they need in a format they will understand.”

When customers first arrive in the subway, they will be greeted not with the familiar and unruly mash-up of service change posters but rather with the sign that adorns the top of the post. Transit says these posters are the culmination of six months of market research aimed at determining how customers want this information presented. Having all of the system’s changes — both weeknight and weekend diversions — in one place and on a one-sheet poster stood out as straphangers’ primary desires.

“One of the issues with the way customer information was done prior to this was that if you rode the 7 line, you got all the diversions on the 7,” Margaret Coffey, the marketing head at Transit, said to the Wall Street Journal. “But if you went into Manhattan and were changing to the [Lexington Avenue] line, you had no clue whether everything was running.”

Hence, the Planned Service Changes poster was born. These directories will be, says Transit, “easy to find” and at “clearly marked locations in stations — both before and after you pay your fare.” They include comprehensive listings of every subway reroute for the week with the route bullets prominently displayed. Sun and moon icons as well as a color-coded system will highlight the time of day of the diversions, and a paragraph will explain the reroutes and alternative travel options.

The signs presenting the overview of all system diversions aren’t the only changes Transit is planning to unveil. Included in the redesign are new displays for individual line reroutings that pop up at the last minute. The current signs, unveiled in 2007, have always been problematic. They contain far too much useless detail and not enough relevant information. Riders didn’t need to know that Transit was performing track work to “ensure that subways continue to operate safely.” Everyone pretty much assumed that.

The new signs, as the graphic from the Wall Street Journal shows — check out the interactive version right here — have been somewhat simplified and de-colorized. The white makes the information stand out, says Transit, and the lack of unnecessary information makes the signs easier to read and changes simpler to comprehend. Transit hopes to deploy these only when last-minute changes are mind.

Additionally, some station-specific signage will include maps that show the impact of the planned changes. It’s a step closer to replicating the work Subway Weekender does on a weekly basis. Transit should be able to release at least a digital copy of a map showing the planned changes, but new signs will have to do.

Of course, as with any redesign, we have to ask if these signs are an improvement. Just a few months ago, I explored how Transit could design a better service change poster, and these redesigns come close to achieving those goals. They’re more visual than their predecessors, and they incorporate all of the information in a standard format and location. It moves the complicated weekend service change process one step closer to foolproof.

Yet, the problem that plagued the previous posters could hamstring this redesign as well. New Yorkers often are indifferent to signs and especially so to those in the subway. If straphangers won’t read the signs, no amount of design tweaking, visual cues or temporary maps will make one bit of difference.



Categories : Service Advisories

38 Responses to “Transit unveils clearer signs for confusing service changes”

  1. Jason says:

    This is better than what i thought they were going to do. I saw these boards popping up, albeit blank at the time, and thought that they were dry-erase marker boards.

  2. Yea, and next week’s NYC Post headline is gonna be “New Sings Leave Strapphangers Hanging”, and they will have an interview with a rider who admits he never reads the signs.

    • John Paul N. says:

      The layout of many stations, especially stations in which staircases are placed in the middle of the platform, makes it difficult for all riders to go to the centralized area that displays the changes. I’d like to see overhead signs that point to the area for service changes (as well as maps) on the platforms.

      Other than that, getting the attention of all such people who never reads signs is pretty much a lost cause.

      • BrooklynBus says:

        Another problem with the signs is that in addition to them being clear, they also have to be located where they can be easily read in a well lit area. People will not get down on their knees on a dirty floor to read low hanging signs or pull out a flashlight if they are posted in a dark area.

  3. Marc Shepherd says:

    Yet, the problem that plagued the previous posters could hamstring this redesign as well. New Yorkers often are indifferent to signs and especially so to those in the subway. If straphangers won’t read the signs, no amount of design tweaking, visual cues or temporary maps will make one bit of difference.

    So…why is that a “plague”? If the signs are well designed and they’re in the right place, they’ve done their job. Obviously, Transit knows that signs cannot reach everybody, so they have other ways of communicating with customers (websites, media, station announcements, conductor announcements, white boards in the fare booth, station staff, etc.). When all of that is considered, they have quite a few ways of reaching people.

    • So…why is that a “plague”?

      Because, no matter how many different ways Transit presents the information or makes it available, people will still not seek it out, not read signs and complain their heads off about weekend service. I’ve seen and heard it from the riders’ sides and from Transit’s side. Many, many straphangers simply will not read the signs no matter how they look.

      • Marc Shepherd says:

        I understand that some people will not read a sign, no matter how well it is designed. But that doesn’t make it a “plague.” You should say that about a poor sign, not a good one.

      • panderson says:

        So is this a criticism of the MTA? If customers refuse to seek out service-change information – in fact are willfully blind to it, which is the situation you’re describing – that’s sort of beyond the authority’s control, is it not?

        I agree the MTA can still do better about announcing service changes, particularly online, as you point out in your original post, but do you think that people who can’t be bothered to glance at a sign on their way into the station are going to seek out the information on the MTA website?

        I subscribe to the MTA’s email and text alerts and check the weekly service changes online and I am rarely surprised or befuddled by a service change. The MTA can and should continue to improve communication, but people who make no effort whatsoever to keep abreast of service changes are never going to know what’s going on, no matter how well the MTA does its job, and they deserve no sympathy. In my opinion.

    • Al D says:

      They use Twitter, too. And quite effectively IMO

  4. Ron says:

    Is it me or do the new station signs look more like the old ones?

    • panderson says:

      Yeah, I had the same thought!

      Some quick googling didn’t yield an actual photo of the old sign, but I found one of the ubiquitous mock versions, which is pretty accurate, according to my recollection: http://www.perezfox.com/images/mta_poster1.jpg

      Same alignment of the line logo beside the timeframe (WEEKEND). Same large headline followed by further details in small type. Same black-on-white color scheme.

      I thought the old design worked fine, and I never understood why they introduced the blue-and-salmon monstrosity we have now.

  5. SEAN says:

    Yet, the problem that plagued the previous posters could hamstring this redesign as well. New Yorkers often are indifferent to signs and especially so to those in the subway. If straphangers won’t read the signs, no amount of design tweaking, visual cues or temporary maps will make one bit of difference.

    If you dont read the signs or try to get the info beforehand, then I’m sorry you are just lazy .

  6. Clarke says:

    In the future, I think it would be nice if the maps in each station were replaced with some sort of video monitor and the map itself could be changed to reflect service at that moment (for instance: at night, certain trains would no longer be displayed and the map would show this). This could even include temporary service changes (a flashing “SERVICE CHANGE” banner on the sign and the route affected could be flashing to show slowed, cancelled, or changed service patterns). A video display board would also allow for video advertisements as seen in PATH stations.

  7. Leroy says:

    Extreme waste of money. The MTA is going too far on something so simple. This is why I have no sympathy for people when they get lost…they should know what the conditions are going to be like before they leave the house.

    • How exactly are simplified signs that cost less to produce and present information in a more comprehensive format an “extreme waste of money”?

    • Christopher says:

      You sound like a bore. Never doing anything on a whim. Never go to one place, and decide on the spot to go somewhere else. Meanwhile the rest of the world likes to be more spontaneous. We have more fun too.

    • John Paul N. says:

      If they don’t have a computer or smartphone or the like, they will never “know what the conditions are going to be like before they leave the house.” And if you rely on radio or TV for that information, the NY media does a poor job on reporting transit conditions.

      • SEAN says:

        Here’s an idea, it’s called making a call to 1-718-330-1234. Wait for the prompt, press 9 & follow the voice planner instructions. Simple enough? Oh that’s right most people who have cell phones are texting.

        • Again, the issue is information. How will you inform people of that phone number — through signs in the subway that might as well just have the service advisories on them?

          • John Paul N. says:

            That number has been consistent, even before the age of cell phones, so older people at least have been aware of it. I doubt the younger generation will care for it, especially with 311 now.

            • I know that, but it doesn’t answer my question. How do you inform people of that number? I bet the vast majority of subway riders — folks who don’t read and comment on SAS — have no idea that a phone number for service changes exists.

              • John Paul N. says:

                If the media didn’t change their policy in which they now point viewers to their own news websites (For any further information, go to our website first, navigate it, and then we’ll take you to the external site.), the MTA and other organizations would have a better chance to market their numbers.

                Otherwise, it’s all in how much the MTA wants to market that number. Best way: through their advertising posters that they put out.

              • SEAN says:

                You can start by Putting the number on the face of the Metrocard in large print just above the strip. Unless you are blind or low vision, you should be able to read it.

                Problem solved.

                • BrooklynBus says:

                  I don’t believe the MTA wants that number (or any phone number other than lost and found) publicized. They would rather you get the information on the web. I wanted the number for Ulmer Park Depot a few weeks ago so I called 311. They didn’t have it so I asked for any MTA number and the only one they had was for Lost and Found. Then I remembered 330-3000 which was in use over 30 years ago so I called it and it still works! 330-1234 is only for travel information.

        • Christopher says:

          As a Deaf rider, anything that requires calling a number is not as simple as a sign. A sign — and signage — aids in legibility of our environment. It’s that simple. A sign is the simplest and easiest form of communication.

          I don’t understand at all why this up for debate.

          • SEAN says:

            It’s not up for debate at all, but it relates to the stupidity of the general public who refuse to find out the information they need before they travel. Now I can understand if you are a tourist, the subways are a bit daunting. However as New Yorkers, there’s NO excuse to 1. read the posters 2. go online or 3. call the MTA.

            As far service change posters are concerned, “If you see it, read it.” Is that so hard?

            • Christopher says:

              Okay I thought you were advocating for not having posters at all.

              Still… I’ve watched people not only sit surrounded by posters, but sit facing a side of the tracks that’s clearly blocked off with tape. And wait and wait and wait for the train to come.

              These people are on their own trip, and yes, are genuinely hopeless.

  8. John Paul N. says:

    Several short comments:

    * Design aficionados are just going to LOVE the near-total use of Helvetica for headings and detail text in these posters.

    * Reverting to black-and-white has the stench of cheapness. I hope the economic differences between black-and-white and color printing are significant enough to be worth it.

    * People still want to know why their normal routines are being disrupted so frequently; they (or at least I) just don’t buy the vague explanations on the current posters that always sound like an unhelpful stock answer. If the MTA thinks they have the need to always dumb down their reasons for service changes, that’s their problem. Now without any reasons, the MTA is becoming less transparent.

    * Mobile and web app developers, go forth and develop service change applications! The MTA should still keep its promise to make its upcoming service advisory format more accessible for electronic reading (i.e. XML), and I believe they will.

    (Speaking of apps, I have released my app, SchedNYC for Android, for a couple of weeks now. I’m not actively promoting it until I release a better interface and I reduce the size of the app, which should be two months tops. It includes the ability to see current service status, but I admit there is one other app in Android which has a much better UI for that. Kudos to that developer, who apparently published that app very quickly.)

    All of this said, the new formats are generally an improvement over the current formats. That’s all :)

  9. Alma Jones says:

    If the media didn’t change their policy in which they now point viewers to their own news websites (For any further information, go to our website first, navigate it, and then we’ll take you to the external site.), the MTA and other organizations would have a better chance to market their numbers.

    Otherwise, it’s all in how much the MTA wants to market that number. Best way: through their advertising posters that they put out.

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