Home MTA Technology MTA starts digital message board roll-out

MTA starts digital message board roll-out

by Benjamin Kabak

Long has the MTA — and, in particularly, New York City Transit — borne the label of technophobe. While subway systems across the nation and globe have long enjoyed video information boards and digital communications systems, NYC Transit has yet to bring this technology to New York City’s straphanging masses.

Well, the wait is sorta, kinda, almost over. According to NY1, the MTA has unveiled digital notice boards along the L and 7 lines, those line-managed icons of experimentation. The story:

Transit officials are testing a new program to alert subway riders with digital announcement boards in the event of delays.

Straphangers at six stations on the 7 and L lines will see video screens inside token booths as part of a pilot program. For now, they are only broadcasting public service announcements, but officials say they will provide up-to-the-minute information on service disruptions.

The Station Agent Information Display program, or SAID, cost the MTA $30,000 so far.

Officials at the rail control center will be able to send messages to individual stations, or groups of stations using wireless technology.

As with everything new in the subways, this is part of a pilot program, and the line managers say that station agents will continue to use those useless and uninformative white boards that I always thought were hanging up in the station booths for decoration. Why else would they still feature messages from July 22, 2005 when the NYPD started randomly searching bags in the subway?

Of course, the typical caveats apply: These boards are only as useful as the information on them. Right now, as the video story on NY1’s recently redesigned Website shows, the boards are being utilized only for the same old MTA PSA’s we’ve all had drilled into our subconscious: If you see something, say something. Throw away your trash. Sign up for the e-mail alerts.

The first real test of these boards will come during an unexpected service delay. If these boards help passengers find out before entering the system that trains are delayed, if they help re-route lost, confused or stranded passengers, then we can label them a success and call for systemwide implementation. But until that day, they’re just fancy TV monitors that happen to hang in the booth in your nearest subway stop.

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EMK September 4, 2008 - 8:15 am

It’s hard to tell from the photo, but are these signs going to be downstairs and BEFORE the turnstiles??

They really should alert people BEFORE they even have to venture down into the system. Sometimes it’s easier to walk or take a bus, and some people take stairs very slowly. In my opinion, it would be better to put these electronic signs above ground ABOVE the stairways so that they can be read from a moderate distance and without people blocking the stairways.

I’m impressed that the MTA is finally considering this idea (since I’ve always hoped someone out there had a sense of what was happening on a particular line at any given time). I just think the MTA should consider putting these signs on the street where riders can choose if it’s worth waiting in the stifling hot station for a delayed train or to take an air conditioned bus. Putting these signs downstairs (or upstairs) will only cause an inconvenience and perhaps draw a large crowd of people trying to read the sign all at once in that compact space in front of the turnstiles.

Benjamin Kabak September 4, 2008 - 9:53 am

The signs are before the turnstiles. They’ll be hosted by the info booth/token booth prior to the point of entry.

Streetsblog » Today’s Headlines September 4, 2008 - 9:01 am

[…] MTA Tests Subway Digital Message Boards (2nd Ave Sagas)  […]

digamma September 4, 2008 - 9:22 am

The paper service outage signs are already horribly confusing at best and blatantly incorrect at worst, as is the service advisory web site. I don’t see how transferring this to a monitor is going to change a damn thing. The only effective advisory is to have a human being standing in the station fielding questions from riders.

Benjamin Kabak September 4, 2008 - 9:56 am

Well, I think that’s a different issue. We can criticize the MTA for getting its own information wrong and that would be a valid complaint. We can also criticize the MTA for having no 21st Century way of communicating to customers. This fixes one of those problems.

Todd September 4, 2008 - 12:55 pm

If they’re rolling these out, it must mean that they’ve ironed out all the bugs with the R160’s interior LCD screens right? Oh wait…

KaiB September 4, 2008 - 1:16 pm

The digital boards shouldn’t just show the line you are about to wait for, but rather also a screen of all lines and their current statuses, similar to the MTA website. That way you can decide whether to transfer to line X at point A or line Y at point B. I saw this in London and found it very useful. As long as these boards have an ethernet hookup, which I’m assuming, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Scott C September 4, 2008 - 5:32 pm

According to the T/O’s over on subchat, Alstom and Kawasaki installed a software upgrade to the R160s that supposedly fixed the glitch in the FIND system. I haven’t ridden one in a while, so I don’t personally know if it did the trick.

Judge September 4, 2008 - 7:31 pm

What was the problem with FIND? I see the data frozen at times, but I can’t think of anything problem that stood out. And I figured that was somehow an operator error.


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