Report: Service advisory sign placement ‘mediocre’


As Friday rolls around in New York, the city’s straphangers know that weekend subway service will be spotty, at best. Trains that should run local will go express, and trains that should run express might run local. Other trains may not run at all or head to some other train’s usual terminal. It’s confusing, and travel takes longer. According to a new report, the MTA isn’t particularly good at informing its customers of these changes.

One problem the MTA has struggled to combat over the years concerns signage. At a basic level, many New Yorkers simply do not read signs, and that’s a problem impossible to overcome. To fight that basic stubbornness or laziness, Transit instead bombards us with frequent in-car announcements concerning upcoming stops and rerouted trains. If a rider doesn’t know where the train is going, he or she is simply not listening.

But on a different level, the MTA has also battled an information problem. Although service advisories are posted online a few days in advance, the agency hasn’t quite hit the nail on the head when it comes to in-system signage. Transit’s latest iteration of its service advisory posters are more colorful and easier to read, but covering the system appropriately remains a challenge. According to a report released yesterday by the New York City Transit Riders Council, the MTA does not always post signage in every station as they promised, and old signage lingers long past its expiration date.

The Riders Council conducted their study over the course of a few weekends in October and November. They surveyed 48 stations 63 times from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and on the traditional letter grade system, the MTA would likely walk away with a D for its signage efforts. While Transit promised to hang signs near entrances and on platforms, only 64 percent of entrances featured signs, and just 60 percent of platforms hosted the posters.

With the London-inspired posters, Transit in 2010 also debuted new line-specific signs to be hung upon station columns. The Riders Council found that these signs were featured in just 55 percent of station entrances but on 72 percent of platforms. To make matters worse, five stations surveyed had no signage at all concerning service changes at that station. These included Nostrand Ave., Broadway Junction and High St. all on the IND Fulton Line in Brooklyn.

In terms of alternative access, Transit did not fare any better. The authority provided ADA-accessibility information in just 53 percent of stations surveyed, and only 71 percent of stations had signs that listed alternate routes for any straphanger combatting service changes. The Riders Council was not impressed. “Looking at the 48 stations overall,” the report says, “the level of compliance is mediocre at best.”

After noting that some stations featured only hastily-scribbled hand-written signs, the Riders Council issued some fairly obvious recommendations. The MTA must make a more concerted effort to post signs at every station and every entrance. “Riders need to be informed of all service changes prior to entering the station,” the report noted.

Interestingly, the Riders Council issued a call for faster installation of the MTA’s new digital Station Advisory Information Displays. Noting the flexibility and visibility of these 21st Century screens, the report urged the MTA to pick up the pace of installation and target areas that are both high traffic and likely to go through service diversions. “By installing SAID boards in the unpaid areas of stations, NYC Transit would provide riders with a predictable and reliable place to look for service advisories,” they said.

It’s hard to dispute any of these findings. While I recognize that the MTA can’t force its customers to read the signs, it must make the signs available and visible. Without the signs, riders must partake in a massively confusing guessing game that will leave them frustrated and delayed. They should be in every station, at every entrance and on every platform. Anything less is just lazy.

8 Responses to “Report: Service advisory sign placement ‘mediocre’”

  1. Brian says:

    I think these signs need to be brought into the digital age. In the long run out might be cheaper because the mta won’t have to keep printing the thousands of papers every week for information. The stations with countdow clocks already have a place for upcoming info too be displayed. R160s can display it on the little screen to the strip maps. In addition to in station and on train announcements. If people don’t read our don’t listen then its their own fault.

    • SEAN says:

      You’re absolutly right.

    • aestrivex says:

      for all the emphasis the MTA has put on the improvements being made with countdown clocks and real-time information (which really should be considered the status quo), it is amazing that they still rely on putting up paper signs everywhere. i can’t imagine it would possibly be hard to modify the countdown clocks to sometimes show countdown information and at other times to periodically flash e.g. “NO 7 SERVICE QBORO PLAZA-TIMES SQ / USE N/Q INSTEAD”

  2. George says:

    Hell, why not have volunteers wear a sandwich board with advisories at all stations affected by weekend service?

  3. Jim D. says:

    Those numbers are indeed pretty dismal. I find that the standard practice of hanging 8.5 x 11 notices is insufficient – those tend to get lost in the visual clutter (especially when taped to white tile walls) if you are not specifically looking for them. Some sort of larger poster stand that could be prominently placed near entrances and stairways perhaps would be better, especially if those were put up a day or two before the service outage is scheduled to occur.

    FWIW, I’m not convinced the SAID boards are going to be the magical solution a lot of folks are hoping they will be. Long experience with electronic displays and messaging devices has taught me that you often have to wait for other information to scroll past before your preferred message appears. I can see people missing important service announcements if they walk past when a ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ or other PSA-type announcement is showing.

  4. Ed says:

    The MTA’s effort here is much better than in the past. The posters are readable, you don’t have to look for them, they are less filled with bureaucratese that obscures the effect of the service changes, and so on.

    I think the report is too harsh. I think they are finally making an adequate effort, and are being defeated more by the sheer complexity of the changes, and people not liking to read.

    However, to improve things, for the weekend why not just print out the map the Subway Weekender guy is already creating, and put those up on the other side of the big station maps each weekend? It can’t be more costly in terms of time and money than putting up a poster listing the changes each weekend and then taking it down.

    Assuming there is some mysterious reason why the above is completely impossible, it may be better to add a sign (hand lettered, on dry erase board) by the ticket booths at each station how service will change AT ONLY THAT STATION AND ONLY THOSE LINES during the upcoming and current weekend. People will be able to process information station by station easier than trying to take into the entire system. The system wide information should still be available, as now, but maybe could be in fewer locations.

    • BrooklynBus says:

      I agree that there has been much improvement over the years regarding the dissemination of information. But, on the other hand, with the increasing number of diversions, the need is also much greater. The MTA first noticed the need for better information when in the mid-1980s they created “Passenger Information Centers” at every station, usually near the entrance and on the platform. Those were sufficient for the 80s when there weren’t routine weekend diversions affecting a dozen or more routes. But even back then, much thought wasn’t given to the program. While the information displayed may have been adequate, they were often placed in dimly lit areas requiring you to use a flashlight or get on the floor to read some of the information.

      With the consideration of new digital displays and their expense if the MTA has to pay for them, the MTA should consider moving them around from one long term diversion to the next, much like the mobile DOT signs, rather than having them permanently affixed in certain stations.

  5. Alek says:

    Hire the subwayweekender guy do the map. It is very clear and understable. I love the map on subwayweekender

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