Manhattan’s 134-year-old subway system is going digital.
Over the past month, the city’s Metropolitan Transit Association installed the first in a series of self-updating touchscreen subway maps in its iconic Grand Central Station. The durable “On the Go” kiosks allow bystanders to route their trips and see when certain trains will arrive at their stations, and will also alert passengers when there are delays.
All in all, they make the subway a little less terrible, especially if you’re a tourist.
It works like this: Tap on the station you want to go to on the kiosk, and the screen will automatically map out your route with a suggested train line (or lines). You can drag your fingers across the map to view boroughs. Though you can’t zoom, the screen is impressively responsive — a sweet spot between the dull taxi screens you have to incessantly jab with your finger and the hypersensitive smartphones that most of us carry around.
It’s even simpler for out-of-towners. Say you want to go to the Statue of Liberty but can’t figure out what station you need to get off at. You can tap the Points of Interest button, and a list of New York City landmarks — like the Statue of Liberty or the 9/11 Memorial — will pop up. Just tap the place you need directions to, and the map will populate your route.
Maybe your train is delayed or the line you want to ride is undergoing planned maintenance work (what’s up, G train?). The kiosks update their info in real time to integrate all relevant updates into your route. If there’s a problem, a yellow triangle with an exclamation point will show up next to your directions. You can tap it to find out what exactly is wrong.
Or, let’s say the train you intended on taking is messed up beyond your wildest dreams. You can just shuffle to an alternate route by tapping an arrow button on the right of the screen.
Other useful features include a complete list of every station with elevator or escalator access (helpful for the elderly and people with disabilities) and a map of city bus routes. When the kiosk isn’t in use, it cycles through a new piece of information every 10 seconds: the real-time estimates for when the next train will arrive, the listing of scheduled departures of the Metro-North Railroad and — without fail — incessant animated safety announcements warning you not to jump onto the tracks.
Gizmodo reports that Grand Central is currently home to 18 On the Go kiosks, eight of which are spread throughout the hallways near the 4/5/6 tracks. The other 10 are peppered around the giant mezzanine that connects to the rail station. We can expect a lot more to pop up at other stops by mid-2014.
The capacitive touchscreens were not paid for by the city but by a company called Control Group, which hopes to eventually make a profit from the screens by displaying advertisements. They’ve been working on the kiosks since last summer and even launched a test unit in the Bowling Green station before finalizing the technology. The result? A kiosk with a touchscreen that is intuitively responsive but durable enough to withstand the wrath of a million hands each day — not to mention the other shady hijinks of subway miscreants.
The only catch? You’ll have to bring your own Purell.
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