Observing Interactive Tech

MTA_kioskThe MTA has available to passengers  On The Go digital information kiosks that are used to simplify way-finding and communication. These kiosks are housed in many train stations and were “designed to deliver the most relevant information”, according to the MTA. The kiosks provide countdown to arrival, one-touch visual directions based on real-time train status, neighborhood maps, and advertising.



The kiosk is operated by touch screen. There are two main menu items; Maps & Directions and Service Status. By engaging either menu item you are supposed to get detailed information on travel, how best to travel between stops and be informed of any service interruptions.

Very few passengers used the kiosk. The passengers I observed while idling on the platform waiting for their train browsed the service status menu. It is unclear if the users were satisfied with the information received by simply observing them. By observing body language, some stood a distance away from the machine, as though intimidated by it. They navigated through the menus and prompts, went back and tried something else, then walked away. Also suggesting that the interface is something users need to get familiar with to use effectively. I am not certain if there are options for information to be displayed in other languages. Others confidently approached the kiosk, moved their fingers around and left.

train scheduleThe screen depicting the countdown schedule of arriving trains, telling us how far away they are from the station only appears when the kiosk is dormant i.e. not in use. While the kiosk’s screen is the input and output, it also just serves as a billboard for subway ads. When not engaged by a passenger the ‘billboard’ mode is in effect. Apart from displaying MTA announcements and company ads, the train schedule (shown in the left photo) is also flashed. This is an important piece of information for passengers but can only be viewed as part of this billboard slideshow. The schedule cannot be retrieved on demand! This, is the major flaw of the unit – it’s inability to provide obviously vital information to users. These kiosks were introduced approximately three years ago yet still, the interface has not been updated to incorporate prompted retrieval of these schedule details.

Passengers see the schedule, which takes a little time to read if you are trying to locate your train and get information about how soon it will arrive, then the display disappears. I observed people either turning away from the kiosk in dismay, rolling their eyes and looking down the track to see if the train is coming, or trying to engage the kiosk to locate the schedule.

I think this machine is successful in communicating MTA information to us. Service details as well as navigation details. There is a learning curve associated with its use. Not many folks in society are familiar or comfortable using technology. So, while designed for use by all it really doesn’t fulfill that. What about the visually impaired? Can the map be magnified? Can the machine vocalize the details to someone? These are questions that arise now as I sit to write this.

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