Amid Communications Improvements, MTA Weekender Stagnates

Eh, I’m trying something a little different. Perhaps I’ll continue as I see fit.

Recently, the MTA (and I suppose Governor Cuomo as well since all good things MTA-related come from his office apparently) has been on a kick of announcing their plans to improve communications with the general public. Their latest entry is the testing of the next-train countdown clocks and displays at several stops along the Broadway line. This push to get the MTA agencies into the 21st century got me wondering why such communication efforts have not been made toward clearly illustrating how the trains are running at any given time, especially during weekends when service changes dramatically due to planned construction work. After all, it is the reason why I have been maintaining this site for the past four years. While the MTA clearly sees their Weekender as the best thing ever, especially since it’s the first link on the MTA website every weekend, in reality, it’s about as useful as the 1972 map it’s based on. Much like its predecessor, the Weekender map is more of an art piece than a useful tool of conveying service patterns during weekend construction. A diagrammatic map with blinking dots for stations is not any better than a standard map showing normal service.

While I consider the maintenance of this site as something of a personal accomplishment, this is something the MTA should be doing in-house. Something I mentioned in a letter to them some time ago, which only resulted in the standard form letter that stated they appreciate my concern and are  looking into the issue. Or something like that; after all, it was a few years ago. But I digress. That was then and this is now. And nowadays, riders want to know just how their train is running, or if it’s running at all. With all the technology prevalent throughout the subway and the new technology that’s coming in the next few months and years, there is no reason why riders should deal with inferior maps or should have to turn to outside sources like myself to see the planned service patterns, even if I do appreciate your patronage.

And the thing is, creating these maps is not a complicated process in the slightest. I’m not sure how long you folks think I take creating a map every week, but let me assure you, it’s probably much less than you think. On average, it takes about a hour from start to finish manipulating the base map to properly illustrate how the trains are running. Sometimes it’s a bit more if there are new service changes or if there are a lot of them, but if this is something I can do in my spare time on a Sunday morning, there is no reason why somebody in the MTA offices couldn’t whip up something similar within the same amount of time, if not less. I’m sure they would have much more resources available to them than I could ever acquire. And yet, it seems they’re either unwilling or unable to do something that’s relatively simple. Few people expect them to create maps showing service for every unplanned service change, much like they did following the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but it shouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for riders to get a real subway map PDF showing weekend service as it is affected by construction.

This post is not a knock at the MTA Weekender. It’s a okay tool and a great starting point, but much like the 1972 map it’s based on, it would work even better as a companion piece to a regular map modified to show real weekend service. Something this simple would go a long way towards improving communications with the average rider.