After grabbing the attention of some folks on the web and at MassDOT/the MBTA, I’ve set in motion the steps to a better method of alerting fellow riders to upcoming service changes. At a meeting with my contact at the MBTA this past Friday, I handed over the template designs and uncovered a few ugly truths about signage and rider communication at the MBTA. When put to practice, the signs will not be placed within the trains themselves, as I had done the night of 6 May, for ‘union reasons’. Instead, they will likely continue to be deployed as ‘seat drops’, which basically means they’ll end up face-down on the floor under the seats after the morning rush comes in to peel them off the seats. I regret not having pressed harder for a better solution. These signs will also go up in stations, ideally in place of the large vinyl walls of text that have normally accompanied service changes.
Ultimately, all signs now deployed on the T for service changes are currently done line-by-line by each line manager, but this isn’t really news to us. What’s more distressing is that whatever design and brand integrity team that used to exist at the MBTA as part of the public relations team no longer exists, likely due to successive budget cuts and the resultant position eliminations that have happened over the past few decades of federal, state, and municipal disinvestment in transit.
A well enforced brand identity breeds comfort and familiarity and makes it easier for riders to passively spot helpful information, such as line maps, emergency procedures, or wayfinding signage. Splintering of this visual continuity hampers this and makes communicating with passengers much more difficult and energy intensive. The MBTA needs a brand and passenger communications czar; Joe Pesaturo and his team has their hands full with outward-facing communications with news media and internal communications at the MBTA.
In any case, the signs will make their way to the public relations team who will apply their touch to the designs and push them out as a template to the line managers. How it develops from there is up to them, but Josh Robin plans to keep me involved in the project. At the moment, my next step is to create a web app that will allow line managers to create the signs with an intuitive form using drop-down menus and canned statements that have been pre-approved by the public relations team. Anyone interested in contributing his/her web technologies talents should express his/her interest in comments below.