We are transforming your…subway?

The New York Times recently ran an article and a blog post on two changes in how the MTA communicates with riders. SubTalk, BusTalk, and TrainTalk, the MTA’s programs for public service announcements aimed at riders, are all being replaced with a new program. The old slogan, “Going Your Way”, is out too, replaced by “Improving, non-stop”. The sample ad is clean and (mostly) well-designed, and I particularly like the lines at the bottom, intended to “[evoke] the aesthetic of the subway map”. I’m also excited by the general tenor of the program, which resembles an initiative Transport for London has had for several years: Transforming the Tube. TfL makes a real effort to justify the disruption that riders face and explain why the improvements that are being done are necessary. The MTA’s new campaign will do the same thing for riders in New York, where the subway is finally getting substantial improvement after suffering from deferred maintenance and underfunding throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Riders today grumble about the state of the subway, but many of them have no idea just how bad things were mere decades ago. The new campaign justifies the disruption that riders face and shows them concrete improvements—in other words, they try to make the disruption worth it. (I am sorely tempted to point out that this might be yet another case of Jay Walder importing successful ideas from London to New York.)

The second change is that the Train of Thought program, which “placed literary quotations from the likes of Kafka and Schopenhauer in the unlikely locale of a packed New York City subway car”, is being terminated. The MTA needs the space, presumably to provide more room for their own ads, as part of the new “Improving, non-stop” campaign. I’ve always been a fan of public art programs on transit—and literature counts as part of that—but communicating with riders is an equally important issue for the MTA.

On the following page, I discuss a minor concern with the design of the new campaign, which will probably only interest graphic design and branding wonks.