Home MTA Technology Can touch-screen info stations thrive in the subways?

Can touch-screen info stations thrive in the subways?

by Benjamin Kabak

Paul Fleuranges offers up a demonstration of the MTA's new On The Go video board. Photo courtesy of New York City Transit.

At a few stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, the MTA has installed touch-screen information centers that serve as a clearinghouse for transit information and neighborhood direction. These “On-The-Go” stands are part of a pilot, and now, according to The Daily News, the MTA wants to bring these terminals everywhere. If all goes right, 468 subway stations may be equipped with these information kiosks.

Pete Donohue has the skinny on the authority’s plans:

The MTA wants to install 47-inch interactive tablets throughout the entire 468-station subway system, the Daily News has learned. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority envisions posting the “virtual agent” near turnstile banks “where the station booth or phone bank has been removed or (in) other areas of unused space,” according to an agency document.

The digital On the Go! screens would also be placed on platforms, replacing standalone paper maps and weekly service diversion notices that workers now change by hand. Going digital will allow officials to update information and advertising remotely, officials said. The ads could even be tailored to specific times and neighborhoods.

…The MTA doesn’t yet have a rollout schedule or project cost, [Transit spokesman Charles] Seaton said. It’s soliciting information from private firms on how to move forward, he said. One possibility is having a corporate sponsor pick up the tab in exchange for having its logo on every kiosk or a share in the advertising receipts. The screens are not part of any plan to further reduce station staffing, the authority said.

That last item will, of course, placate the folks who have long protested the decline of the station agent. In a way, though, it’s a false promise as the station agents are gone and not coming back. Still, the digital screens could be more helpful in certain ways. They can be connected to a network that allows the MTA to update the boards with real-time train alerts and can provide more information about the surrounding neighborhoods than many station agents could.

The real question though concerns vandalism: Can these screens withstand the subway environment and all that comes with it? The pilot devices are built to take a beating, and the other 465 others would have to be as well. Meanwhile, the MTA would also have to deal with inevitable upgrades. A typical computer is out of date after a year and ready for replacement in three of four. These items too may need to be on a replacement cycle or else the technology will grow stale as the Metrocard Vending Machine has. In any event, more information and a better delivery system should only improve commutes.

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The Cobalt Devil March 6, 2012 - 1:07 pm

How about, instead of touch screens, the MTA washes platforms more than once a year? Funny how the Sixth Ave line, even after “Fastrack” still smells like piss. If given a choice, I bet 99% of riders would rather get info the old fashioned way and not have to smell piss while waiting on platforms.

VLM March 6, 2012 - 1:09 pm

I sometimes think you have the world’s most sensitive nose. I ride those 6th Ave. trains all the time, and I think only 2nd Ave. is really rank. The rest definitely don’t smell like piss.

The Cobalt Devil March 6, 2012 - 1:12 pm

Like many New Yorkers, you’re probably so used to the smell you don’t notice it anymore. Believe me, I really don’t want to smell piss anywhere, anytime. But you can’t avoid it, especially on a warm day when an incoming train pushes the air from the end of the platform and you get that wall of piss smell.

Al D March 6, 2012 - 4:08 pm

Are you certain that cleaning urine, human or otherwise, is ‘in title’ work for any of the countless job titles that exist? That could be the problem right there. And besides, how do you think that MTA is paying for all this technology? Why from saving $ on cleaners!

The Cobalt Devil March 6, 2012 - 4:12 pm

From the MTA website:

Needed: one person to hose down piss and shit off Sixth Ave IND platforms/walkways (especially that nasty pile left by homeless guy 3 weeks ago at Herald Square). Experience necessary; retired NYPD and ex-politicians encouraged to apply. For an application, see any friendly token clerk.

Brian March 6, 2012 - 7:45 pm

good luck finding someone with expierance in the department

Brian March 6, 2012 - 7:46 pm

good luck finding someone with experience in the department

Clarke March 7, 2012 - 3:45 pm

Good luck finding a friendly token clerk!

Ryan Ng March 11, 2012 - 3:37 pm

Good luck finding any MTA employee who will help you find a job.

Andrew March 15, 2012 - 12:14 am

When I ride the subway at night, I often see major station complexes being powerwashed. I don’t know what the cleaning schedule is, but it’s probably at least once a week if not every night. It doesn’t take long for them to get filthy again, unfortunately.

Bolwerk March 6, 2012 - 1:44 pm

Most people habitually probe bodily orifices (ears, nose, etc.) with their fingers and taste the residue. So I’d save this one for the tourists.

The Cobalt Devil March 6, 2012 - 2:08 pm

Yuck. Good point. I barely grab the handholds/bars on subway trains anymore, and use my sleeve to keep from direct contact. Never mind the stories of bums pissing on seats at the end of subway cars. Now I sit in the middle of the car (if I’m lucky to get a seat at all).

Brian March 6, 2012 - 7:48 pm

someone should buy you a hazmat suit youre

Alek March 6, 2012 - 2:29 pm

To me it seems not a great idea what if somebody came in 1am and broke the on the go machine. Also think of the germs that could be in contact what if somebody sneezes and didn’t use tissue and used the touch screen. GROSS

SEAN March 6, 2012 - 3:11 pm

Please forgive me, but I need to ask are you guys germaphobic? Yes I know the subway is dirty & at times smells horable, but you have survived.

Let me be clear I’m NOT justifying the conditions in the subway by any means, just saying it is what it is. Nobody here is going to argue that conditions need to improve.

Bolwerk March 6, 2012 - 3:16 pm

I’m not especially germaphobic, but sharing public computers and subway poles are about the easiest way to get a bug. It’s not germaphobia, it’s just common sense. If you have to use those things, wash your hands after.

SEAN March 6, 2012 - 3:49 pm

Of course you should wash your hands after riding the subway. However the reaction here is a bit over the top don’t you think?

Bolwerk March 6, 2012 - 3:58 pm

Mine was sort of tongue-in-cheek. I dunno, I think Colbalt is going a bit far with the piss fear, but avoiding touching things finger-lickin’ nose-, ear-, and butt-pickers have touched seems like a bit of a no-brainer if you can help it.

SEAN March 6, 2012 - 4:13 pm

Tutching surfaces with your tongue & cheek in the subway is really a bad idea. LOL

I posted a link in a comment below that I think you would find interesting.

Nyland8 March 11, 2012 - 10:39 am

How is this any different from the touch screens we already use to refill our MetroCards?

SEAN March 6, 2012 - 2:50 pm

What does any of this have to do with digital signage anyway.

If you go to Queens Center or Garden State Plaza, there are 9′ foot display units with plazma screens throughout these malls& others around the country from Adspace Networks, a mall advertising company. http://www.adspacenetworks.com What the MTA wants to do isn’t all that different. The hardware & software could both be designed in such a way as to be future proof, allowing for adaptability as techknology advances. That is the fault of the Metrocard vending machine as we all know.

Al D March 6, 2012 - 4:18 pm

oh boy. i know that you mean well. those malls are clean and in good repair. the nyc subways are not. and the malls do it right, they have advertisers support the signage, but at mta, they wrap 1 3 car train for 8 years and call it a pilot. well, there are lots of others train cars that can be used to geometrically increase ad revenue, same as subway walls (which would first be cleaned as an added benefit before the ads are placed)

as for future proofing technology, that’s just not possible. the best that can be done is to buy a robust hardware platform (for example, on your home computer getting the larger hard drive to accommodate all the HD movies) that uses off the shelf components as well as off the shelf software. the more the itemized is customized, the faster it becomes obsolete and the more it costs to maintain over time.

SEAN March 6, 2012 - 5:48 pm

I wasn’t comparing the subway to a mall, rather I was trying to enlighten you with possibilities via a techknology platform that could be adapted from the retail setting into a transit setting. If we don’t try, how then do we move foward.

Robert March 6, 2012 - 2:50 pm

I think this us a waste of money and resources. Eventually the entire underground subway system will have wireless internet and we’ll all have smartphones that can retrieve this type of data. As you point out, vandalism will definitely be an issue. And by the time all 468 machines are in-service, they’ll already be out of date and ready for replacement.

John March 6, 2012 - 2:58 pm

A little off topic, but this brings to mind the flatscreen information displays that I’ve seen at only two stations in the system (both on the Canarsie line) at Bedford and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues. They display the Canarsie line on the screen and give you a visual aid as to where each train is on the line so you can tell when it is arriving. I often wonder why this wasn’t rolled out along the entire line. Does anyone have an answer?

Bolwerk March 6, 2012 - 3:13 pm

Take this explanation with a grain of salt, but I think it started as one of Lee Sanders’ “line manager” pet projects. It was funded through a discretionary appropriation the managers had.

I think Walder got rid of the line managers and it was never really talked about again, so far as I know.

Al D March 6, 2012 - 4:20 pm

That’s right. It was realtively innovative and the kind of thing that can be done with a de-centralized, remove the bureaucracy approach

pete March 6, 2012 - 5:43 pm

Scratchitti will bring an end to the touch screens.

SEAN March 6, 2012 - 5:57 pm

What is this, Grumpy old subway riders? Where are Jack Lemon & Walter Mathau when you need them. Good grief!

James March 6, 2012 - 6:33 pm

I would love to hear the price per unit of these. No doubt somebody is taking advantage of this situation. Our taxpayer money. People have phones that do this stuff better.

anon March 6, 2012 - 8:52 pm

work for the Co . 75K each worth of useless tech . One in Penn Station was already vandalized, Typical MTA

Kai B March 6, 2012 - 8:53 pm

I honestly don’t see anything wrong with the Metrocard Vending Machines. They have a pretty simple job and do it quite well, particularly the cashless ones. My only suggestion would be to standardize the languages. The choices seem to be different at every stop.

As for “On-the-Go” – Technology like this could eventually replace that whiteboard that’s in every booth. Honestly, for now put them by the token booth or other highly visible areas. I don’t exactly see many Metrocard Vending Machines vandalized, so I don’t see how this would be any different.

In stations that have problems with vandalism, do what the LIRR does with their ticket machines in East New York and give them some extra armor:


Not pretty, but it seems to work.

Tsuyoshi March 6, 2012 - 9:14 pm

Sounds good to me.

This shouldn’t cost any money at all. The point of this is to save money. Instead of having MTA employees (earning union wages and benefits, remember) going around and updating the maps and service changes every week at every station, it can be done automatically by computer. If it turns out to actually cost money, it simply won’t be done — as everyone who doesn’t work in Albany understands, there is no extra money in the MTA budget.

As for concerns about touchscreen hygiene… I believe your immune system can adapt. If you are so worried about cooties just put on some gloves.

The Cobalt Devil March 6, 2012 - 9:52 pm

I walk by the touch screen at Bowling Green (the one pictured above) and nobody ever, ever uses it. There’s already a countdown clock. Most people have iPhones and such that can access the MTA website where this info is available. A waste of money, which is what the MTA excels at.

VLM March 6, 2012 - 10:35 pm

If you actually read the article, you’ll see that the MTA won’t go through with this if it costs them any money. The idea is to get a sponsor to pay for the entire project. Otherwise, no dice. Hence the RFP process.

Hooray, reading! It’s so much easier to bash the MTA than it is to actually read, isn’t it?

The Cobalt Devil March 7, 2012 - 9:44 am

So, the MTA says they won’t go thru with it if it costs them any money. And you actually believe them? Because the MTA never backtracks or fudges the truth. Glad you can read. Now try looking up the word “naivete.”

The Real Question Really Is, Will You Want to Touch One? | Patos Papa March 7, 2012 - 3:17 am

[…] Can touch-screen info stations thrive in the subways? :: Second Ave. Sagas. Rate this: Share this:EmailPrintTwitterFacebookRedditStumbleUponTumblrDiggLike this:LikeBe the […]

Help Point pilot set for system-wide rollout :: Second Ave. Sagas March 7, 2012 - 12:01 pm

[…] we learned yesterday that the MTA wants to introduce its “On The Go” screens to a wider audience, today we find out that another pilot program may get the green light. The MTA’s blue-light […]

Scott E March 7, 2012 - 2:43 pm

I find it odd that the advertiser on the screen in this photo is PIX-11. To see Greg Mocker’s face on on there would be the ultimate in irony.

The Cobalt Devil March 7, 2012 - 4:03 pm

I’ve seen Mocker a few times near WPIX on 42nd St. He’s totally unlike his angry persona. Watched him getting ready to film a piece at the Bryant Park IND station and he was like two different people before/after the camera started filming. It’s all entertainment folks.


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