In the past week I have witnessed 2 groups of transit passengers grow bewildered, frustrated, and then angry when attempting to make a simple trip. Their mistake? Listening to and/or reading official information, information that in each case was incorrect. The first case involved 4 persons wanting to get from the Paramount Theatre to the Airport. Incorrectly going down to Convention Place, they might have noticed their error if not for the following 3 announcements [paraphrased from memory], made at very frequent intervals:
- “Please stand back and allow other passengers to exit the train before boarding; thank you for riding Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail.”
- “Please stand behind the yellow, textured strips until the train comes to a complete stop.”
- “Proof of payment is required prior to boarding Link Light Rail. Tickets may be purchased from the Ticket Vending Machines on the upper level.”
Of course, these announcements are completely inaccurate in every respect. These passengers were left to deduce for themselves, against all evidence to the contrary, that there are indeed no trains at Convention Place, there are no textured yellow strips to stand behind, and there are no Ticket Vending Machines on the upper level. I noticed their dilemma as they panicked at failing to find the non-existent TVMs, and finally I was able to direct them 4 blocks west to Westlake.
In the second case, last Tuesday I was waiting for the 5:39pm northbound Sounder from Tukwila to Seattle. Sound Transit recently switched the platform assignments on afternoon Sounder trains, and the afternoon trains now generally stop at the opposite platform. (ST has been good about publicizing this). However, Amtrak Cascades train 509 (Seattle to Eugene) arrives in Tukwila at 5:42pm. As my northbound train was arriving on the southbound platform, about 10 passengers waiting for Amtrak started to question on which platform their train might arrive. One rider noticed a green railroad signal heading south from the northbound platform, and he and a couple of his friends started sprinting down the ramp to change platforms, while a family of 4 stayed put on the southbound platform because of a sign reading, “Amtrak Cascades Service Begins on June 1, 2001. Trains South to Portland will board this platform.” I don’t know how their story ended, or if everyone got on their train, but again they were left to panic, run, and make quick decisions because information was either missing, outdated, or incorrect.
Other anecdotes abound. Last week I saw a passenger waiting at 26th/McClellan waiting for a #38 bus that no longer exists but still has a signed stop. The “42 to Rainier View” sign graced the I-90 freeway station long after LINK opened. Multiple maps downtown still point unsuspecting tourists to the defunct Waterfront Streetcar. The SLU streetcar maps abound in errors, showing the 74 bus on Westlake Ave, and listing both the 174 and 194 (not to mention grammatical oddities at streetcar stations, such as the lovely “Arriving in Now”).
This is inexcusable. While mistakes are to be expected, especially with quickly changing rider alerts, many of the above examples have been in place for years. There is no excuse for having an Amtrak sign that speaks to us, in the present tense, from 2001. In the case of Convention Place, it cannot be the case that we have no choice but to announce services that do not exist, every other minute for years, just because the same information happens to be valid somewhere else (the rest of the Transit Tunnel).
Passengers have a basic right to coherent, usable, correct information. Because people instinctively trust authority, especially in relatively benign information environments such as transit, saying something incorrect is far worse than saying nothing at all.