Week 3: Big and Shiny Doesn't Mean Useful

Sept 25, 2018

MTA touch screens are somewhat of a new addition to the New York’s subway infrastructures. Not all stations have them yet, but most “major” / big stations do have the touch screens installed on the platforms. These screens shine brightly on the somewhat dim yellow lit platforms 24/7 in the undergrounds of New York. Although they look inviting visually, when someone approaches it to operate it, you quickly realize that there is a reason that not many others waiting for the trains around you don’t particularly want to operate it.

When left untouched, the screens display advertisements - of products, TV shows and the MTA themselves. On the bottom of the screens there are 3 menu buttons: “Maps & Directions”, “Arrivals” and “Service Status”. The “Arrivals” button is the most pressed button by those who attempt at interacting with the screen. It will display the trains that are scheduled to arrive at the particular platform that they are operating the screen at. Although this does seem like a useful information, same information is displayed in the smaller wider screens attached to the ceilings of the platform. The arrivals information that the big touch screens do display which the smaller ceiling screens do not are the arrivals of local buses.

The “Service Status” menu opens up a submenu of two more options as well: “Service Changes” and “Elevators & Escalators”. The service changes menu seem to display the information about all trains stopping at the station. However, the information displayed on the screen did not match the paper flyers that were plastered around the columns of the platform. The day that the above video was taken, the N trains were running locally through the usual R stops. The F train was also stopping on the N tracks. This information was not displayed on the screen. The “Elevators & Escalators” option showed the available escalators and escalators of the subway stop, but when flipping through the rest of pages on the screen, you quickly realize that it also displays information about all other subway stops of NYC, in alphanumeric order. Yes it is good that you see the available services of the stop that you are at, but it does take a little bit of an effort to flip through the rest of the pages to figure out if there will be these services at the stop that you are traveling to.

Lastly, the screen also shows the map of the NYC subway system when clicking on the “Maps & Directions” button. There is little maneuvering of the map that a user can do. The now built in motions a user would like to do, scroll to move and pinch to zoom in a d out, do not really work on these screens. And if one clicks on another subway stop, it tells you which trains to take to that particular station from the subway stop you are at.

The conclusion of the observation of how people interact with the big touch screens would be two things: 1) it does not perform better / do more things than an map application on a mobile phone, 2) they seem like a fancier place to display advertisements.