attempts to redesign the TTC’s customer service problem.
Video killed poor customer service
I make no claims about being an expert at wayfinding. However, as mentioned previously, I have had the opportunity to work, in part, at organizing crowd movements at two Olympic Games. Key to the success of those operations was the identification of “decision points:” identifying not only what pieces of information a customer would need to have throughout their journey, but where along that journey they could most benefit from receiving that information. This is a concept I think the TTC has continually missed the mark on, as I have noted before, not only with directional signage but also with its video screens. Take a look at YUS platforms at Bloor-Yonge: why would you place video screens with the capacity to display important service information at the platform level, rather than outside the fare paid area? And for that matter, why would you install these screens to begin with if the vast majority of real estate is going to be occupied with advertising?
The real world answer is, of course, the TTC was given the screens for free and the trade off was that they play ads, and they were installed at the platform as it is a space where passengers are forced to wait and are therefore are exposed to the advertising messages for a longer period of time. An ad is far less likely to “sink in” if a customer breezes past it in the ticket hall. I do think advertising has a practical, customer-oriented purpose at stations beyond marketing, but it should sit separately from information about the system so vital messages do not get lumped in with the “noise.”
To their credit, as the installation of these screens continues, the TTC has acknowledged the need to place them in locations that maximize their usefulness. But it is not just their location that I have some qualms with: the screens at Dundas West strike me as both too small and placed too high to be useful and I question the need to include weather information (I have just entered the station from outside, I already know what the weather is like). Instead, I think it would be prudent for the TTC to invest in information screens that are standalone or wall-mounted and place them at eye level, much like those at London Underground stations. This means that most customers, even if their vision is limited, can access to the same information. And, frankly, placing a screen which delivers customer messages high up the wall has the (presumably unintended) effect of being a little too 1984ish. Placing customer messages at eye-level (for me anyway) sends a subtle message that the information is delivered on a personal, one-to-one basis, not from “on high.”
The TTC, for some reason, has also decided to restrict some screens to purely next vehicle information for surface routes, which seems somewhat odd given the presumed cost of the screens. The screens can display dynamic information, why, then, restrict them to strictly one type of information? In my mind, it makes more sense to have multiple screens that each convey a variety of information, as opposed to a series of screens with only one type of information each.
So, the goal in my taking on the information screens was thus: place them in locations that maximize their usefulness, ensure that the information conveyed via the screens is presented in an easily digestible, effective way and that each screen presents multiple types of information. As such, as seen above, each screen will have different states, and shift between them at regular intervals:
- The first presenting current status updates for the rail transit system with a clear explanation of the cause of any delays. These updates consist of the following statuses:
On time: trains running without disruption at or under acceptable headway.
Minor delays: trains running above acceptable headway, but still under double the acceptable headway and/or will be returning to “on time” status shortly.
Severe delays: trains running at or above double the acceptable headway.
Partially closed: a section of the line is closed, either planned or otherwise.
Closed: the line is completely closed.
- The second provides next vehicle arrival times for the next five street services, consolidated together (next vehicle arrival times are more useful for street services as the arrival times are less frequent than rail and as they run in traffic are subject to greater potential for delays).
- The third is an alert used in cases where there is a large disruption to either the rail or street systems and, obviously, meant to draw the immediate attention of customers. These messages would override regular screen messages.
Although ideally these screens would be freestanding or wall mounted with a portrait orientation, the displays could be adapted to the existing landscape orientation as well, as seen above. Where needed, important video announcements (like the TTC’s current YouTube videos) could be played as well.
In the meantime, a low-tech stop gap
While the installation of these screens will not be completed until the end of 2014, I think it would be prudent to issue each station dry-erase boards, so critical customer service information could be conveyed on a similar basis via handwritten messages. These would be supplemented by magnets in each lines’ pictogram (as seen beside the signature in the fifth image, above), so as to assist in the delivery of critical service information. Updating this sign on a regular basis would be part of a collector’s responsibility.