For almost a year now, New Yorkers have been watching with baited breath (and pitchforks at the ready) to see if the cash-strapped MTA, the folks who operate our subways, buses, and some surface railroads, will implement the so-called “Doomsday Cuts” and massive fair hikes in an effort to close the budget gap which is already well into the billions of dollars. Today, we came one step closer as the news trickled down that the MTA has approved said fair hikes and service cuts. There was a dubious hope that levying tolls on the East River crossings would help raise money, thus avoid subway rises, but State Legislatures in Albany have put that idea to rest.

There is still time for the folks in Albany to come through with some intrastate stimulus action — and considering how much cash NYC brings to NYS, they really should consider it.

So what’s this got to do with design? Well, it’s time to re-think how the MTA communicates with the average rider. One of the most obvious, yet most tragic methods, is the ubiquitous Change in Service poster.

MTA poster - current
Current Posters

Problem is, these posters suck!

The current posters were implemented not too long ago, sometime around the new year 2007. While these posters are indeed more colourful than their predecessors, they fail to communicate the message effectively. I’m not the only one has been caught by a failure to understand what is actually happening. Late nights? Weekends? Alternate route? It’s all a big mess.

While these posters do match nicely with the Metrocards, they don’t hit you with the info as efficiently as the earlier black and white ones.

MTA metrocard

MTA poster - current
Earlier Black and White Posters (this one is obviously a spoof, but it was all I could find.)

For one thing, why is “Service Changes” so prominent? Obviously, this poster is to indicate a service change, why else would it be stuck on the wall in the first place? Instead, we should emphasise whether it’s a late night, weekend, or other change. And there should be some sort of colour coding so folks can take a quick glance and know what’s going on. Let me take a stab at it…

New Poster
Late Night Service Changes

New Poster
Weekend Service Changes

New Poster
Cancelled Service Changes

See, each version is colour-coded for understanding ease. With the use of simple and universal symbols, we can tell instantly whether or not we have a chance of getting ourselves home or if walking is a better alternative. Also, perhaps it’s time New York switched to a 24-hour time clock so we can actually keep track of this shit! None of this 12:01 AM bullshit; let’s be honest, it still confuses people to sit there and try to decipher what time of the day it actually is when the day expires and turns into the next.

what it might look like

what it might look like

Could posters be the start of a new era for the MTA? Would clearer communication cut down on headaches for riders and belligerence on the part of the staff. One could only hope.

Your thoughts?