Everything old is new again. As the MTA looks to improve the way straphangers get around — an important aspect of the service the authority must provide to its customers — it has turned to something familiar to those who know their subway history.
At certain stops along the East Side IRT, Transit testing new strip maps that show riders where the subway go. The new signs, similar to the one atop this post sent to me by David Sims, a SAS reader and reporter for The Chief-Ledger, are evocative of the strip maps that used to adorn the subway map back in the 1980s. By showing riders where the train that will arrive on that track will next go, the authority helps those without an encyclopedic knowledge of the subway system find their ways around.
I asked the MTA about the new signs yesterday, and an agency spokesman had this to say:
The subway system has been around for more than 100 years, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve the way it works for our customers. Similar to our mid-2010 redesigned service change posters, we’re taking a fresh new approach to increase the availability of easy-to-read maps throughout the system. While every station already has a subway map, customers don’t always have time to locate the map or sort through all of the information it provides. We’re trying out a few ways of doing this as a pilot and we’ll decide how to move forward based on customer feedback.
The strip maps are the first part of the pilot program, and it’s hard to dispute their usefulness or visual appeal. They may be limited in that they represent peak-hour subway service only, but that’s when most people are riding. I’ll be curious to see what the next step of this pilot program resembles.
Meanwhile, as part of a more long-term effort to deliver customer service upgrades, Transit is toying with the idea of retrofitting older rolling stock with digital signs. Michael Grynbaum has the deets:
New York City Transit is looking for a way to bring some of its older subway cars into the digital age. The upgrade, if put into effect, would bring automated station announcements and digital route displays to more than 1,700 aging subway cars, including the entirety of the B, D, and Nos. 1, 3 and 7 lines.
Those amenities come standard on the system’s blue-hued modern trains. Currently, the most high-tech signage on a B train is a plastic roll sign operated via hand-crank. To subway officials, intent on improving the passenger experience, the change would bring clearer, real-time travel information to riders tired of screechy intercoms and static maps. But the end of live announcements could signal another step in the creeping dehumanization of a subway system already shedding station agents and, on some cars, train operators…
Neither a timeline nor an estimated cost for the upgrade was available on Thursday, mostly because the transit agency still needs to determine if the idea is feasible.
I don’t put much weight into the nostalgia of live announcements. While Grynbaum spoke to Harry Nugent about the more colorful conductors, I side with Andrew Albert. “I haven’t heard the robot make a mistake,” the chairman of the New York City Transit Riders Council said. “I have heard the human make a mistake.” (Of course, the robotic announcements can be loud and annoying, but we covered that complaint recently.)
If the MTA can find a cost-efficient way to upgrade rolling stock that won’t be due for replacement for the next 15 years, they should. After all, it’s all about improving the customer experience. I would have to believe, though, that it might be easier to upgrade the static route signs on the R142s and R143s to the dynamic FIND displays. Too many times do I board a 2 train with the map for a 5 train and a note saying that the route-finder isn’t in service.
Essentially, these upgrades are minor ones that can make a big difference in the way New Yorkers and visitors commute. It can take a lot of the guesswork out of finding the way around, and that focus on the customer has been sorely missing for the MTA for quite a while now.