What can we do with station subtitles?

Today, the WMATA Board formally endorsed the idea of shortening some Metrorail station names by introducing station subtitles, a concept first proposed by Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert and Matt Johnson. WMATA also released detailed information on the final design for the 7000 Series railcars. Incidentally, this design work was done by Antenna Design (who I’ve endorsed several times in the past).

The 7000 Series will be WMATA’s first railcars to feature automatic voice announcements, among other advanced passenger information features. With WMATA adopting station subtitles, how should they interact with the 7000 Series’ voice announcements?

On some London Underground rolling stock, for example, the automatic announcements vary based on time. During peak hours, when most riders are likely to be commuters, rather than tourists, the announcements are shorter, and do not include points of interest. Off-peak, the announcements are longer—they include points of interest and are geared more towards the needs of infrequent riders.

Because it is necessary for the train doors to be kept open for the entire time the announcement is playing, a shorter announcement makes for a shorter dwell time. Shorter announcements therefore effectively increase the capacity of the entire line, a major issue during peak hours.

How might this work for WMATA? During peak hours, trains might make announcements like “This is U Street. This is a Green Line train to Greenbelt”. But off-peak, they might make extended announcements like “This is U Street–Cardozo. Exit here for the African American Civil War Memorial. This is a Green Line train to Greenbelt”.

R160 FIND display. Image by Wikipedia user Pacific Coast Highway.
This balances the needs of commuters, who want to get where they’re going without having to sit through a lengthy announcement at every station, and tourists, who want to know what the points of interest are, at least at major stations. In addition, keep in mind that the 7000 Series will feature more than just voice announcements. Four large LCD screens will display passenger information, along with dynamic route maps akin to the FIND displays on MTA New York City Transit’s R160 trains. The large displays, in particular, can display not only the full station name but multiple points of interest for every stop, along with other information, like bus and rail connections, and station icons (if they are implemented).

All riders, whether tourists or commuters, will have multiple ways to get information during their journey on a 7000 Series train, resulting in an improved rider experience compared to today’s Metrorail cars. In addition, shorter station names will help these new passenger information systems be as effective as possible.