Never stand while riding the subway again

A concept for an electronic display that points riders to the least filled subway cars. Credit: Randall John Gregory

A concept for an electronic display that points riders to the least filled subway cars. Credit: Randall John Gregory

You see the headlights at the other end of a darkened subway tunnel speeding toward you, and now all you’re hoping for is a car with at least one empty seat.

Most subway passengers would much rather ride while seated than white-knuckle a metal pole. But despite recent technological advances in train tracking systems, a solution for passengers to find the least-filled cars remains elusive.

Meanwhile, finding open seats is becoming more competitive as 10 out of 15 transit systems running either subways or elevated trains in the U.S. recorded increases in ridership in 2012, according to the American Public Transit Association. Systems in Cleveland, San Francisco and Miami each saw increases of more than 5 percent.

These factors taken together mean that passengers are forced to either stand or get creative. Some pick where to stand on the platform with scientific precision while others seem to know on which side of the train the doors will open first.

It may come as no surprise then that some creative riders have been the source of some pretty innovative ideas to help their fellow straphangers take a load off.

Inspired by frustration

Randall John Gregory, a college student perusing a master’s degree in branding at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, suggested in his blog a concept for an electronic sign that displays the passenger capacity of subway train cars. His mock up relies on an aerial view of a train and shades of red to indicate capacity in each car based on weight. The post is part of an ongoing series in which Gregory is suggesting 100 ways to improve the city’s subway system. The “car density” post seemed motivated by frustration.

“It’s a real pain when you’re standing on the platform, and the car you always get on is full,” Gregory said. He went on to say, “Live tracking, based on the weight of the cars, could determine this info. When you get to the platform, you can check the screen and figure out where to stand. This results in better distribution of riders.”

Real-time subway tracking

The London Underground is as crowded as any busy subway system in the United States, which got British blogger Dan Taylor thinking about ways Transport for London could solve the identical issue of

These moving train icons tell passengers that most seats are available in the rear of the train. Credit: Dan Taylor

These moving train icons tell passengers that most seats are available in the rear of the train. Credit: Dan Taylor

overcrowding in cars. Taylor also relied on an electronic sign, except that his tracked trains in real time on a map, and the train icons had the same color-coded cars as Gregory’s solution. Taylor explained that his “fantasy next-generation London Underground on-platform display” would rely on “passenger body heat or possibly carriage weight to account for all those suitcases.”

Taylor’s map almost certainly would help passengers find a seat. But it seems that Londoners face a more serious predicament — getting on a train at all.

“You could increase your chance of boarding,” Taylor explained. “And the platform announcers wouldn’t have to keep telling new arrivals to move along the platform.”

Kristina Lintz
Kristina Lintz is a writer from Maryland whose work has appeared on The Connectivist and Hypable.
Kristina Lintz
Tags: Business,Productivity