Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thanks for nothing

I was excited to see that our Boston transit system, the MBTA, had installed these LED signs on the line I take to and from work. I eagerly anticipated messages saying, "Next train in 8 minutes" or "Green Line delay because of track repair."

But, no. The sign remained dark for the half-hour I waited for a train tonight.

Well, not totally dark. There was the message, simulcast on the public address system and the LED sign, warning us that fare evasion was a crime and that we could be punished mightily for it.

But not a word about the actual train service.

I have to give the MBTA something for truth in advertising. It describes this capital improvement project (or one like it) as follows: This project will install new LED information signs on the platforms and lobbies of busy subway stations. These signs will provide visual equivalent of audio information on train arrival times and destination information.

In that sense, the signs are the visual equivalent of the public address system on this line, which for years has also failed to give audio information about delays or train arrivals.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Paul,
You and your readers might be interested in the MassDOT Developers Conference coming up in a few weeks over at MIT. MassDOT and the MBTA are working with third-party developers to get real-time alert information directly to your cell phone and pda:

http://engage.blog.state.ma.us/blog/2009/10/2009-eot-developers-challenge-and-conference.html

http://www.mass.gov/eot

Paul Levy said...

Interesting. That technology could actually leapfrog the signs that were just installed.

Anonymous said...

At least you didn't get harassed for taking the picture in alleged violation of a confusing policy!

Joe S. said...

You can alos sign up for text message alerts, which while not particularly timely, are often ahead of the signs...at least on the godforsaken Worcester line.

Nathan Spencer said...

Paul,

The signs are part of a system-wide test with what is generally referred to as the 'Next Bus' system. Much like in other cities like DC, we will have displays that do a count down. Testing and intergration will follow.

Sadly, the MBTA has only two programmers on payroll and are still looking for help from riders to develop integration for the system.

The Commuter Rail will actually have the first example of this rolling out in the next months.

For more information on when this system will be available to us all, I would suggest contacting the MBTA and asking for Anna Barry, Director of Subway Operations.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why the 'T' can't get its act together. Cities such as London put Boston to shame. In London, the Tube has multiple lines using the same track. The overhead LED signs tell you what train line will be arriving and in how many minutes it will get to the platform.
Why the 'T' doesn't look at other cities for technical advice boggles the mind!

Anonymous said...

The MBTA should use the metro in Washington, DC as a model in terms of visual signals for approaching trains. In DC, there are LED boards on the platforms with each train listed. Next to each train is a clock that counts down the minutes to arrival. There are even red lights built into the platform that flash when the next train is approaching. So even if there is a service delay, at least all passengers know about it and can anticipate it instead of sitting at an MBTA stop wondering why there hasn't been a train or trolley for 30 minutes or merely reading along as the chief of the MBTA police warns us about fare evasion.

Anonymous said...

Umm, how bout a little patience? They are probably taking baby steps towards having "next train in x minute".. I'm sure you'd bitch and moan if they tried to deploy the system in one fell swoop and the signs were giving completely wrong information, though. This seems like the lesser of two evils.

Adam Gaffin said...

I posted a link to this on Twitter and on Universal Hub (of course I did)! Couple of interesting replies:

The T is installing those signs in advance of more useful information actually being supplied.

The T is installing those signs as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit by the Boston Center for Independent Living; the signs will, when operational (see first note) provide transit information for deaf users, among other riders.

Anonymous said...

Careful, Paul. Do you really want your cell/pda ringing all day with MBTA alerts? Even if you restrict it to certain lines & times-of-day, it will not be the complete solution you need because you will often break routine and use parts of the system you are not so familiar with. In my public transportation experience, what is relevant to you is the service status of the station you are at when you are there. As a MBCR & MBTA frequent user, I have to add that the information, when posted, is helpful, but the postings are infrequent, and improvements have been VERY slow in coming.

Paul Levy said...

Anon 10:30,

I probably would not even have noticed the signs, nor thought to write this, if they hadn't chosen to use them for the obnoxious message about fare evasion. If you have a system that doesn't fully function, why introduce in a way that is annoying? Just let it be blank.

Anonymous said...

Almost completely missed in your commentary was the fact you had the "opportunity" to stand at Longwood station for 30 minutes waiting for a train.