The MTA is planning to install thousands of columns throughout its subway stations that riders can use to report emergencies or ask for travel information.
The sleek, blue columns will contain a speaker and microphone that allow straphangers to communicate with the transit control center.
Tom Prendergast, president of New York City Transit, said the new system is far superior to the small, red customer assistance intercoms that it will eventally replace. The new columns, called Help Point Intercoms, will be far more visible, and, since they will be digital, it will take only seconds for the control center to answer. The current intercoms operate over regular telephone lines and take up to 20 seconds to answer.
The MTA unveiled a 6-foot tall prototype today at a board committee meeting. Officials are expecting to install about 20 units by the end of the year as a pilot project in the Brooklyn Bridge and 23rd Street stops on the Lexington Avenue line. They said they won't know how much it will cost to outfit the whole system until they go out to bid next year.
Prendergast said development of the prototype accelerated in the last three or four months, though he denied the technology is a replacement for the 460 station agents who were laid off earlier this year.