Thanks to a move north for my lawyerly career, my daily commute now takes me through the 51st St. station along the 6, and on the way home on Monday, I caught my first glimpse of the MTA’s latest pilot program. In a public awareness campaign that echoes back to the mid-1990s, Transit is testing two platform designs reminding passengers to get out of the way of those exiting trains. It’s a common courtesy that shouldn’t need to be repeated, but it’s also one that often escapes subway riders who rush to board crowded trains as soon as the doors open.
The two designs employ the familiar green characters from the MTA’s ongoing “Courtesy Counts” campaign and remind riders to “Step Aside” to “Speed Your Ride.” The idea behind the message rests in the MTA’s capacity constraints. The agency has recently reported that a recent jump in delays is due nearly entirely to crowds. As more people try to cram into subway cars, trains aren’t able to speedily move through stations. Thus, the MTA wants to streamline the border process, and in addition to this decal, the agency is trying to use customer service agents to herd passengers.
The design I saw is unique to 51st St. for now, and the pilot in place at one stop north at 59th St. looks slightly different. Consider it A/B testing for Transit:
As my Instagram photo atop this post shows, the installation also comes with signs hanging at around eye level on the platform support beams. I’ve had a chance to see it in action for only one train, and while one passenger was, at first, standing in the middle of the “Keep Clear” area, he moved over once the downtown 6 train arrived.
For the MTA, this slogan is not a new one. They employed it in 1996 to decidedly mixed results. A New York Times column expressed skepticism while a short AP story from early 1997 illustrated how nearly all riders simply ignored it. But times have changed, and the MTA is hoping this pilot will yield some improvements. Whether it survives the pilot stage — unlike those handy strip maps — remains to be seen. For now, though, it is apparently the best the MTA can do to help improve crush-load subway operations without an infusion of dollars in the billions. What that says about our hopes for an easy commute is something we best not dwell upon.