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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis February 10, 2012
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Customers Keep on Moving
BY NURIA FERNANDEZ, Chief Operating Officer, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York, NY

In New York, we’re continuing with both internal and external efforts to implement technologies that will help our customers move around. We develop new technologies in house for our customers, but we also make data available to third-party app developers; we want to encourage them to work with us to make additional apps quickly.

The Help Point intercom system is undergoing pilot testing on two of the busiest stations on the 6 subway line. It’s a simple object that has two buttons: a green one for customer information and a red one for emergency service. The presence of this system means that, right there on the platform, our subway riders have access to the information they need.

Say passengers make changes in where they’re going. They need only to push the green button to be connected to MTA’s travel information center, which allows them to talk to a real person. The red button connects to the MTA rail control center, which has people on standby to help subway users deal with emergency situations.

Help Point has been very well received by the public in both locations. MTA designed it as part of an agency-wide shift toward giving customers the opportunity to buy their own fares and get their own information rather than dealing with station agents. It’s to their benefit, since our travel information employees have access to more comprehensive information than an employee in a specific station. Our larger subway stations still have station agents, but the overall aim is to use technology to obtain better service for our customers.

Another pilot project, called On the Go!, is now in three subway stations. This is an interactive touch screen that provides travel planning services, some real-time weather information, real-time bus information, and third-party information about cultural and dining destinations. Again, it’s all there to help our passengers make their best travel decisions after they’ve entered the station.

On the bus side, MTA recently rolled out real-time bus information on Staten Island; it’s been in Brooklyn for about a year and is coming next to the Bronx. We take our data stream that tracks the buses and make it available to app developers so people can use their hand-held devices to see where the bus is and make decisions—is there time to get a cup of coffee or buy a newspaper before the bus arrives? This way, people know they can stay in their offices until the bus is two blocks away rather than standing at the stop.

These seem like small changes, but remember that a small change in the daily routine will have a major cumulative effect. We want to give our passengers the feeling that they’re more in control of their travel decisions—a nice service that will only continue to get better.

The fact that this information is moving so much faster now than in the past has a definite positive effect because increased efficiency is the whole purpose of the technology.

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