Rider trying to close an information gap without losing their fare.

Rider report cards submitted to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) during the autumn of 2007 suggest that modernizing subway technology, communicating subway status information, and minimizing wait time are a priority for NYC commuters. The MTA is attempting to address the issue through a long-term project called Communication Based Train Control (CBTC), but after more than a decade the technology is available on one subway line and only delivers the information to station platforms. MTA Real-Time is a system that demonstrates how ubiquitous real-time subway information will enhance the rider experience of New York City commuters. The project utilizes technology such as SMS and wireless signage to connect train arrival information with commuters throughout the city, enabling them to avoid delays and save time before entering the system. The rapid deployment of this technology would make a positive impact on a transit system unable to make expensive service upgrades that increase the number of cars on existing subway lines. MTA Real-Time will be helpful for commuters when the subway experiences service delays, and will aspire to decrease commuter wait-time in everyday usage.


A wall of densly packed information. Riders wait for information during the 2007 flood.


In August 2007, I experienced the chaos that ensued after a rush-hour flood shut down the subway system. I witnessed the critical information gaps that occurred between riders and the system as commuters tried to find out when and where the trains were running. This experience, and my desire to investigate how technology impacts a public space and audience, gave me the impetus to further investigate the information vacuum that exists when riders enter the New York City Subway system. The project employs a service, systems, interface and information design approach in the investigation of real-time information delivery systems. It resulted in the development of a functioning text-messaging system that scrapes the MTA's timetable database, a mobile flash subway application, design for entrance signage and notification touch-screens, and a functioning prototype for determining subway positioning. The project argues that rapidly deployable real-time information will aid commuters during subway disruptions and decrease commuter wait-time in everyday usage. My thesis adviser, Rachel Abrams, provided invaluable insight during the production of this project.


Subway service notification interface proposal - viewing notifications over an actual calendar. After touching a day on the calendar, one could view the notifications on a map to see the sections of the line that were affected.


An SMS prototype was developed to deliver timetable information to commuters without web enabled phones. Proposal for realtime information to be installed at the entrance to stations instead of the station platforms. The MTA is planning to install the signs on platforms, but this doesn't necessarily save the commuter time since they have already paid their fare.


3D design work for entry sign stacking system.The stacking sign system was based on a bus-signage system in Copenhagen, and would be able to include all of the lines accessible from various station entrances.


I also explored the use of low-bandwidth and rapidly deployable pager networks to determine real-time train positioning. I tested the pager device from within the subway system as trains entered stations... the pager device detected approaching trains, it was able to send the arrival information (from underground) to a web server where it was aggregated. MTA Real-Time at the MFA Design and Technology Thesis Exhibition at the Chelsea Art Museum