Transit – Envisioning a Communications System for the MTA: Live Info

I doubt I’m alone in being frustrated by the complete lack of meaningful communication when I step into the subway. Nobody wants to be reminded at 108 dB that their backpacks can be searched when they’ve been waiting 25 minutes for an elusive (A) train at rush hour. Don’t blame the person who is giving the announcement, or the token clerk, because they have no idea where the train is either.

We’ve seen from cities around the world that it’s not at all impossible to keep passengers informed of when the trains are coming, when they’re delayed, and when there’s important information to be relayed. This is true even in cities with train systems nearly as large, old, and complicated (London is a perfect example.) We also know that people will patiently wait much longer as long as they know how long they have to wait in the first place.

When I don’t like something, I love trying to make it better. This is what my blog is going to be all about. My efforts in this case are a concept I dubbed Live Info, which aims to create a comprehensive, integrated communications system—covering the way passengers receive and request information, to how problems are reported, and where and how the information is sourced and managed. It includes both the bus and the subway. It is on the platforms, in the mezzanines, at station entrances, in the train cars, on your phone, and on the web. It attempts to minimize its own costs by forming a private-public solution. 

Some examples of Live Info’s features:

  • Text a bus station to learn when the bus is arriving. Text a subway station from anywhere to find out when the next trains are due to arrive.
  • Find out on board the train when your connecting train or bus is due to arrive.
  • Receive advice on the platform and train about whether it’s faster to switch to the express or stay on the local.  
  • Learn before passing through the turnstiles whether there are delays on your line. 

Regardless of the costs, I think it’s worth considering the advantages of integration, standardization, and a streamlined workflow. I don’t believe Live Info is innovative in the technology it uses—nothing is voodoo, here—but rather in the way the systems would work together to provide customers with rapid, precise information.

If you find this at all interesting, I encourage you to read through the full report, written as a “proposal” (unsolicited, of course) to the MTA. At this stage it’s really conceptual, but attempts to envision and describe the foundation for a total solution. Download it here (8 MB PDF, 33 pages).


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