NY Subways Take A Digital Step Forward With "iPad" Informational Kiosk

Techno-glee. Press folk crowd a beaming MTA employee at unveiling of On The Go! touch screen at the Bowling Green subway station in Lower Manhattan.

(New York, NY - WNYC) To date, the NY Metropolitan Authority has relied on scratchy public address announcements and regularly vandalized signs to convey information to the subway-riding public. If any system within the system has been poised for a great leap forward, it is this one.

The MTA doesn't have a broad solution for the problem -- but it hopes to alleviate some of the real-time information gap by  installing digital kiosks with 47-inch touchscreens in stations.  Straphangers will be able to get information in some stations before they go through the turnstile, but not yet on platforms.

The MTA is calling it their version of an iPad. Riders can use a finger to call up travel directions, planned and unplanned service changes and whether the elevators and escalators at their destination station are working.

Other offerings include a map of the neighborhood around the station with walking directions and distances. The time and weather is displayed; a news ticker crawls across the bottom of the the high-definition screen. Third party apps provide local history and shopping and dining options.

NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said the digital screens also give the authority the ability to quickly disseminate emergency information. "For example, with an event like Hurricane Irene, we can let people know the subway is shutting down," he said.

The service, called On The Go!, is part of a six-month pilot program that will be adding demonstration kiosks to Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, Atlantic Avenue / Pacific Street in Brooklyn and Jackson Heights / Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. The authority said a successful pilot would pave the way for installing the screens throughout the system's 468 stations.

The machine's software was developed jointly by NYC Transit and Cisco Systems. Cisco, which had a spokesman at the Bowling Green Station unveiling event, is paying for the pilot. NY MTA officials said they expect the program to generate a steady stream of revenue for from ads displayed on the bottom half of kiosk screens. That income, they said, would also pay for the roll-out of more machines.