Tag Archives: transit

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).

Materials – The Subway Floors

It’s no secret that the floors of the stations in the MTA New York City Subway range from mildly gross to disgusting. With 6 million daily riders in 468 stations and 24/7 service, there isn’t a lot of time to scrub them free of grime and gum. By comparison, you could probably lick the floor of the (smaller and more modern) Munich U-Bahn to no ill effect. 

The more recently renovated stations do indeed have better floors that feature granite tiles, as opposed to slabs of raw, cracking concrete. Still, granite, being rather matte, attracts its fair share of grime and the cleaning schedule isn’t exactly rigorous. And it’s expensive—so expensive, in fact, the the MTA is seriously considering going back to—you guessed it, slabs of even harder-to-clean bare concrete. 

Modern concrete can be done right if it’s treated and polished. The smooth surface is essential to “cleanability.” 

Several systems around the world have come to terms with the fact that eliminating the cracks between sections in addition to smoothing and polishing the floors makes them much easier to clean. Boston glazes its tiled floors in the rehabbed stations, and they stay pretty clean. 

The color matters, too. Darker colors hide grime, gum and dirt and give the appearance of being clean, or at least hiding what we don’t want to see anyway. The Paris Métro, in my opinion, does it absolutely correctly. The floors are almost black, but shiny and smooth. It’s not too far off from the floors of New York’s rehabbed and new subway cars, which use speckled black floors (as opposed to the old and definitively nasty brown floors). With countless shoes trodding over both every day, both are certainly pretty filthy, but you wouldn’t know, and frankly you don’t want or need to know. 

The MTA, like many lumbering government organizations, often does things a certain way because it’s “always been done that way.” Maybe they worry that smoother floors would cause accidents and related lawsuits, but I didn’t see anyone go careening in the Paris Métro. Maybe the French have better balance. Or maybe there are better materials to use. Don’t worry guys, it’s OK to experiment.