When it comes to weekend service changes, the MTA has been laying it on hot and heavy for the past few years. The work is all part of a significant capital investment that keeps trains moving smoothly and frequently during peak hours, and the authority has opted to accomplish most of the work during the weekend when it is less disruptive to those who need the subway system. What they often don’t do is thoroughly inform the public of the changes.
Posters proclaiming the various weekend service changes have long vexed the MTA. Once upon a time, the posters were a stark of black, white and red with some information tossed all over the place. In mid-2007, the authority redesigned the signs to better present the information.
The results were something of a mixed bag. With no visual component outlining the service changes in map form, riders were left with signs, such as the one at right, with too many words and confusing information. What does it mean for one train to “run on the F” from one stop to another? Veteran straphangers might understand MTA shorthand for a reroute, but casual subway riders won’t be able to picture the diversion or know where the train goes.
The current signs also contain too much useless information. when the MTA rhetorically asks “Why is my service being changed?” the answer is usually always the same: “We are performing XXX work to make sure that subways continue to operate safely along the X line.” That the MTA is ensuring that subways continue to operate safely adds nothing to the informational value of the posters nor does it help riders know what to do.
A few months ago, I came across a posting on the blog featuring work of students who are in the MFA program at the School of Visual Arts. Those working Interaction Design had tackled the subways, and one designer — Russ Maschmeyer — came up with the sign atop this post as a better way to present weekend service information. He writes about his design:
For any transit system experiencing redirects, there are four key messages that need to be conveyed: alert the riders to a change, provide a quick overview of that change, course correct any wayward travelers, and finally, guide riders through the hallways to the proper platforms. If done right, no one should have to stop to study a sign, but study them we do. Currently, the MTA employs a single, densely packed sheet of 8.5×11” paper to convey an entire set of messaging. This is a problem worth solving.
I approached this problem with the aim to stretch out that messaging over the rider’s entire subway experience, from entering the station, to the turnstiles, to the platform and then onto the train itself. I devised a simple hack to the current station entrance and turnstile signage involving LEDs surrounding the train symbols, as well as the LED route boards on the new R160 trains, which would alert riders to service changes and cancellations. Once inside the station or on the platform during a transfer, riders would find redesigned fliers, which would include iconography, a strong information hierarchy, and a map of the service change. This is of course just a beginning, but hopefully these small changes would go a long way to making these changes a bit more digestible.
I’ve written recently about the MTA’s customer service woes, and these signs along with Maschmeyer’s resdesign show the MTA could better inform its customers. The agency should, at the least, make a map with the service changes available on its website as Subway Weekender does, and the in-house design team should consider a more visual approach to the service changes. Little upgrades such as these would make the subway system more user-friendly, and maybe New Yorkers wouldn’t be so begrudging of their subway system.
Photo above via SVA Interaction Design on flickr.