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.