Home MTA Technology Leveraging the MTA’s focus on real-time train information

Leveraging the MTA’s focus on real-time train information

by Benjamin Kabak

Transit's new SAID sign on display at the Atlantic Ave. station. (Photo courtesy of MTA)

As I walked through the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. subway stop yesterday, I came across a variety of Transit workers tinkering with technology. On the mezzanine above the BMT platform on 4th Ave., two men with a computer were fiddling with the electronic information sign while the familiar voice of Transit’s train-information PA recording filtered through the loud speaker. It seemed as though Transit was prepping the B Division countdown system for wider system adaptation.

Today, the MTA confirmed that this innovation as well as a few others are coming to the system as CEO and Chair Jay Walder works to increase both the MTA’s willingness to share information with customers and bring badly-needed innovation underground. While the B Division countdown timer system is now in place between 207th St. and Columbus Circle with a rollout along Eighth Avenue down to 23rd St., the Atlantic St./Pacific St. stop will serve as the model station for the MTA with new technology in place for both the IRT and BMT parts of the station.

Although the A Division stations now feature to-the-minute countdown timers that rely on a new (and expensive) PA/CIS set-up, the B Division system leverages preexisting technology to bring information that international subways have brought to customers for years. This system uses the track circuits to follow the progress of trains. These circuits can detect the train and trigger a message displayed or broadcasted in the stations ahead. Unfortunately, for train routes that share tracks, the system can only tell if an express or local train is coming and cannot identify whether, say, a D or N will be next to arrive at Pacific St.

On 4th Ave. and Pacific St., the SAID sign simply resembles any outdoor video ad. (Photo courtesy of MTA)

The SAID sign seen above is another example of the MTA’s latest customer outreach initiative. The Station Advisory Information Display boards are now online in Grand Central and at the 4th Ave. entrance at Atlantic/Pacific. Installed in the fare-control area, these signs inform potential straphangers of any delays before one must pay their fare. “The installation of the SAID signs will test NYC Transit’s ability to successfully transmit real-time subway service information, as reported on the “Current Service Status” portion of the MTA website, to large LCD screens located in station areas outside of the turnstiles,” the agency said in a release.

As the photo shows, the screen will feature a split with the line groupings and train service status on the right and specific changes on the left. If any lines show “Service Change,” “Delay” or “Planned Work,” the explanation and alternative routing will be provided on the other side. “We want riders to see something electronic before you get into the station so you know what’s going on before you pay your fare,” Walder, whose one-year anniversary at the MTA is today, said to reporters yesterday. “It could be a game-changing event. I’m envisioning a screen that will be out there and can lay all of this information out. We can put the information in the coffee shop on the corner and other places located near the bus stop. What we’re trying to do is give information that allows people to relax. It gives riders a sense of control that they know what’s going on.”

For the MTA, times are tough. Their finances are a mess, and the authority has come under attack — sometimes rightly, sometimes not — from politicians of all stripes. Yet, the authority, not know for its customer service outreach or technology initiatives, has been making an effort to bring more information to the public and keeping riders better informed.

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Postscript: The authority has also debuted a prototype of their Help-Point Intercom system at the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. station complex. It’s only on display to show how these will appear on the platforms at stations come 2011. Check out a quick photo right here.

After the jump, a view of the SAID sign as it appears in the fare-control area at the 4th Ave. entrance to the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. station.

Photo courtesy of New York City Transit

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ferryboi October 5, 2010 - 1:26 pm

Excellent. Now the subway will be on par with the PATH system, circa 1992.

Scott E October 5, 2010 - 1:33 pm

This is really nice! I just wonder where signs of this size can be hung in “regular” (not Grand Central) stations — in a shuttered token booth seems to be the only place it can be somewhat protected from vandalism. Any idea who is building these — is it an in-house project or contracted to a consultant or IT company?

John Paul N. October 5, 2010 - 2:33 pm

From the Post article:

“On a tour of Grand Central, Walder said a screen could be as large as a 12-foot glass wall near the ticketing kiosks — displaying a massive amount of train and subway data — to as small as a single panel on a bus.”

So these screens will be of various sizes, I guess.

Sharon October 5, 2010 - 8:40 pm

There have been signs on the L for a few years. they are behind protective glass. Even if the glass is shattered, the screen is not.

They should have one of there advertising partners flip the bill for the screen. All screens should have a ad wrapper and commercial breaks. Also you can have pictures of who is monitoring the station at control.

Gary October 5, 2010 - 1:34 pm

Speaking of countdown clocks . . . I had my first real mecountdown experience just last week.

We were dog tired and carrying bags and entered the Astor Place station just as the train was pulling out. Fearing a long wait, we considered walking down to Houston to catch the F. Then I saw the clock that said another 6 was 1 minute away. It was.

Love it.

John Paul N. October 5, 2010 - 2:31 pm

There is at least one other status: “Suspended” (in purple). Perhaps an additional ticker will work better with the screen real estate and all the information that’s going to be provided: current status and future planned changes.

What would be even better is if this info is also inside the train cars. But I feel there is something lacking with this technology, I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because it’s not particularly innovative as ferryboi implied.

SEAN October 5, 2010 - 2:32 pm

Does this system anounce what is displayed on the screen? I like the anonciator at 18th Street on the 1.

Kai B October 5, 2010 - 11:55 pm

These signs look exactly like what I saw in London at every Tube station. Hmmm… Walder?

Streetsblog New York City » Track 34th Street Buses From Your Computer or Phone October 15, 2010 - 1:21 pm

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