Information screen in test mode at UW Station

The two new U Link stations will introduce a new way of delivering information to passengers but the design needs to be more user-friendly. Unlike the LED signs at Link stations today, the new stations use flat panel screens. When I went by UW Station last month, I was not impressed with the test screens I saw. Sound Transit told me and a few other concerned people on Twitter stating that the screens I saw were not the final look. While I await their final design, I would like to critique the test screen and suggest improvements.

The test screen’s layout is divided in three parts: an area for images like a distorted Sound Transit logo; an area for showing train arrival times; and an area below the two spanning the width of the screen showing the familiar text seen on signs at other Link stations, “Welcome to [station name] / Sound Transit Link Light Rail / [current time]”.

The biggest problem with the design is it attempts to cram too much information on a single screen, resulting in text much smaller than the signs they replaced. The most important information on the screen, the train times, is given a third of the space with very small text that is difficult to read from a distance or while walking. Two-thirds of the screen is dedicated to irrelevant information like the Sound Transit logo and the welcome message. Such information belongs on permanent station signage, not a dynamic screen like this.

By breaking that information into multiple screens each focused on a single message, readability would be greatly improved. An example of this are LA Metro’s station information displays. Prior to their redesign a few years ago, LA’s signs tried to do what ST did with a three section layout. There was a running ticker in the bottom for service alerts, a large area for more alerts, graphical marketing & public service announcements, and a small column to the left for next train times.

LA Metro's screen before (apologies for the poor quality)
LA Metro’s screen before (apologies for the poor quality)
LA Metro's screen after
LA Metro’s screen after

The new design gives each element its own screen for a few seconds at a time. This allows the layout of each screen to be tailored for the message. Service alerts are given a bright yellow and bold text to call attention. Eye catching, full-screen graphics can be used for marketing and public service announcements. Train times can be shown in large text that can be seen from afar. Even the date and time has its own screen. Each screen can be given a different weight so some screens stay up longer or show more frequently than others or in the case of an emergency, normal programming can be overridden to give important messages.

The other design aspect I like about LA’s screens is they fit in with the LA Metro look. The typography, colors, and symbology match those used in Metro’s branding and wayfinding system to make it a consistent experience across all mediums, static and dynamic. While the approach shown is not the only way to design a passenger information screen it is clearly better than the test screens I saw.

48 Replies to “Suggestions for U Link’s Station Screens”

  1. One thing that I definitely appreciate about the U-Link information signs is that at least you’ll be able to tell when the next train is coming from the outside of the station, allowing for an informed decision whether to walk or run down the escalator, or just stand.

    It would be even better if ST could host a OneBusAway info screen for the nearby stops on Pacific St. and Stevens Way right outside the station, so that people getting off the train and onto a bus could more easily make an informed decision about how fast to walk.

    Also, is there any chance of retrofitting Link’s existing stations to get the new information signs? Especially (cough, cough) Westlake Station, with it’s lack of cell phone service?

      1. I sent a tweet to sound transit a few weeks ago when they first showed up at TIB, and they confirmed that train info will come to those screens too. For now, the oba enterprise info is a great start.

      2. Sounder has had an OBA screen for a while at Tacoma Dome Station and just added some monitors at King Street on the Weller St Bridge facing 4th Ave. Hopefully this catches on throughout both systems.

    1. Good point. I like all those ideas and it would be nice if they were at all the stations.

      As far as what Oran said:

      The Sound Transit logo and the welcome message belong on permanent station signage, not a dynamic screen like this.

      I agree. I know the trains display the station and all that, but to me huge letters with the name of the station really makes it easy. There is no need to announce that on the screen. Maybe if there are no announcements (nothing to scroll) than a small message with the station and the logo would make sense, but otherwise, why state the obvious.

      1. But what if the station gets grumpy one day and doesn’t feel like welcoming people anymore? This message needs to be on the screen so that it can adapt to changing conditions!

      2. If there were no announcements, it should be showing a countdown to the next trains. If there are no trains, it would show a clock and maybe a countdown to the first train of the morning.

      3. No. No countdown for stuff the system doesn’t see.

        This is one thing TriMet got right. “Scheduled for 4:30 am Monday.” If the system can’t see it, it might not be there.

  2. The screens should cycle between service alerts and the next few trains. All screens should show the current time.

    For the real time arrival data bigger is better to make it easy to see from a distance or with bad eyes.

    1. “The screens should cycle between service alerts and the next few trains”

      I’m not a fan of that idea. Once you’ve seen a service alert, you should need to stare at the same alert over again over again for 15-20 seconds just to see when the next train is coming.

      I would rather have one screen reserved just for arrival info, and another screen reserved for service alerts (or a generic welcome message if there are no service alerts). The service alerts should fit the entire text on the screen at once, to avoid scrolling messages. Unlike arrival info, it is not a big deal to move closer to the screen to read an alert if you can’t read it from a distance.

      Or, alternatively, maybe the user of display screens for service alerts is just overkill to begin with. If they don’t happen all that often, simply taping paper signage all over the place should be good enough.

      1. It’s not overkill. The whole point of having these screens is to be able to quickly disseminate service information.

        I doubt ST will go out there and tape printed rider alerts when a car crash shuts down Link on MLK. They barely are able to communicate that through digital channels.

        The train information doesn’t need to be constantly displayed. The status of a train is unlikely to change much in the 10 seconds that the screen is showing something else. It’s not counting down by the second.

        People constantly come and go at stations. Just because you’ve seen the message doesn’t mean everyone has. So quick cycling though information is important.

      2. The problem with cycling information isn’t so much that the information is going to change in 10 seconds – it’s that you have to stare at the sign for 10 seconds before it will show you the message you want to see. All to save the cost of one extra monitor off a several-hundred-million-dollar station.

      3. The cycle should be shorter like 3-5 seconds. Also, the platform occupants are constantly arriving so the info will be new to them.

      4. More screens are great but if there’s only one screen, cycling is better than cramming everything on one screen making people squint at tiny text (or completely overlook it because the text is practically invisible).

  3. Ugh, I can’t believe we’re 3 months away from ULink!

    Why did ST spend millions on art but cheaped out on getting a super small tv screen? Get a f’ing 70 inch so people with bad eyes like me can read the info. But yeah, they need to make the info large, and no one cares about the ST logo. Maybe they should use the station logos to indicate the next stop for nonenglish speakers too.

    1. ZachL, One reason I can think of about expenses between public art and other parts of the project: Federal law requires every project the Feds help pay for has to spend 1% of project budget for art. And from all the comments I hear from people who know the subject, we got very good value for our money.

      Our elevators and escalators, on the other hand, have had huge repair and maintenance costs for really substandard products. So for an honest comparison, why not ask the same “Why did” question about screens vs. elevators? That way, if both of them turn out to be junk, it’s a fair and very long argument about which one stole money from the other.

      Mark

  4. I hope that ST does what LAMTA does, as shown here. The next train destination and minutes to arrival should ALWAYS be primary. The current scrolling two minute warning is not enough, and most systems have either continuous notification or arrival details every three minutes or less. The travel experience is always enhanced if waiting passengers know what’s happening. A six-minute wait feels like a ten-minute wait when arrival details are not provided!

  5. Thanks for this, Oran. All you observations are technically right, but this is not a technical matter. One exact item completely demonstrates the relevant transit agencies’ signature failing.

    Stand at the wide collecting mini-plaza foot of the escalator, the platform area where both doors of a southbound train open. And with a clicker counter in one hand and a smart collecting real-time footage in the other, and record how many people pulling wheeled luggage walk around confused about where to wait for…..any guesses?

    For the five and a half years since the first Airport passenger came down the escalator from the hotel district, our system’s single most important 20′ of platform has never had Sign One! Not a matter of electrical readabilty. Could take a Freedom of Information Act demand to get stats on how many people have complained in five years.

    Meantime, a dollar’s worth of school supplies taped to an empty tile wall will perfectly indicate the location, size, type-face and content for whatever electrical needs to go there. Though no rush about it.

    Will be some great viral Twitter to see how long your work stays up there. And how many people who need repurposing to Customer Assistance – and how fast- will arrive to make you tear the thing down. Cell-phone, clicker, and maybe an attorney. And Twitter proficiency. Guarantee the electronic problems will be gone before the mouse-click comes down on first invoice.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Oh Mark, I have plenty to say about the poor wayfinding at our transit stations but I have to keep things focused. Can’t put it all in one article!

      People probably won’t complain. They just give up and never take transit again which is why ST won’t hear from them.

      1. I’m sorry, Oran. Don’t mean to pile anymore work on you. Though using word “Wayfinding “shows you’ve reading strange Borg/Sulabon sidewalk symbols on site.

        Whatever. George Lucas permanently lost me by revealing Vader was not cloned from Henry Kissinger. Well VULCANS know logic when they see it!

        From my experience, though, I think that since we local passengers are more than willing to direct visitors to ticket machines and right place to wait for trains, people get to the airport with positive feelings about us.

        And both LINK and joint ops, the like of which many visitors have never seen. Unfortunately writing back with praise and compliments that remove the system’s incentive to improve. Admit it: we’re both collaborators!

        Mark

  6. My goodness, that sign is horrible. I do like the idea of OBA integration into the sign though. I wonder why they don’t integrate the train arrival info into OBA. It doesn’t seem that hard. OBA does have the schedule for Link, however. And I will say, trains usually run so close to on-time that the schedule is usually sufficient to plan a reliable trip. Now that we have a schedule, that is.

  7. At the moment, I don’t think any Link stations absolutely need train arrival information. But that’s because there’s only 1 train line. Does it matter if the train is coming in 3 minutes or 7 minutes? If ST splits the spine and we have red, blue, and green lines then absolutely there should be large font displays that things like “Red Line -to Airport – 3 minutes, Blue line, to West Seattle – 8 minutes”.

    More important than train info is bus info, because there are lots of different bus routes. For a train-only station like UW, the signs should tell about buses on the surface nearby For stations in the DSTT, they signs should tell about buses.coming through the tunnel. That way someone exiting at UW Station for Lake City knows if they should wait by the station for a 65 or walk onto campus for a 75/372 (replace that with a better example if the 65 isn’t looped, I’ve lost track of which buses will go on Stevens or Pacific).

    And echoing others, more important (to me) than the display is signage on the mezzanine and platform walls that says “TO DOWNTOWN SEATTLE” or “TO RAINIER VALLEY/AIRPORT” or “TO UW/NORTHGATE”. A sign like “Bay A – North/East-520” doesn’t help if you don’t know if the airport is north or south of you.

    1. Does it matter if the train is coming in 3 minutes or 7 minutes?

      Of course it does. This is how you know whether to walk briskly down the escalator or just stand on the escalator and mosey down.

    2. As I enter the station I want to know if I have enough time to make the next train and if I miss it, how long the wait is. On the platform, the times give me reassurance that the train is arriving soon.

      As I leave the station, then yes, give me bus information which currently is very crappy at Link stations. There is a need for both.

      1. I guess I’m easier to please. Knowing there’s only 1 train, and that’s essentially the only way to get where I’m going, I’m satisfied with “trains are every 10 minutes so the next train will be along within 10 minutes and there’s nothing to do but wait until the train arrives”. And hustling down stairs doesn’t seem to be an option for me, because downtown, I usually get stuck on the staircase behind people who don’t understand the concept of keeping right, and I’m not confrontational enough to ask people to step aside.

        Going to Link – my main concern is finding the train station, which for me is a major problem downtown. But that’s a different discussion than what’s in this post.

        Going from Link – my main concern is connecting bus information, which is currently severely lacking.

        But yes, there’s clearly a way to provide both train and surface bus information at the same time.

      2. It’s easy to say that simply knowing a train is coming every 10 minutes is good enough – if your final destination is downtown – but if you need to make a connection downtown to a bus that only runs every 30 minutes, knowing whether or not you need to hustle down the stairs is a big deal, as a delay of 10 minutes may be enough to jeopardize the connection.

        By the way – will the station have stairs in addition to the escalators? In crowded conditions, there is often much more room to hustle down a flight of stairs than on an escalator.

    3. The biggest factor in ridership and rider satisfaction, beyond the intrinsic factors of reliability and safety, is frequency. People do not want to stand waiting, but if there’s a clock telling how many minutes until the next train/bus it mitigates that. They’d rather the cluck says three minutes or less, but if it says ten or fifteen minutes that’s better than not knowing.

    4. I’ll just point out the hat there are times that waits are greater than 7 or even 10 minutes: later in the evenings or on Sundays. It is during those times that train arrival info is more appreciated.

  8. Just for fun, I took a stab at designing a new sign based on the comments here. This one is just for Link arrivals, but could be adapted for OBA with the addition of route numbers. It could also cycle between arrival time and service announcements as needed, like the other example.

    http://imgur.com/Bq33WEJ

    1. You should probably come up with some way of adding a route color or number to that. Otherwise, it will get confusing when you put both the bus routes and the Link trains on the same sign. I don’t know if Link has any stations where this would eventually be done, but in TriMet land the Bybee Blvd MAX station shows the arrival of MAX trains and bus route 19 buses on the same display, of which there are three (one on the MAX platform and one each at the bus stops going in each direction).

      This is what TriMet has:
      http://news.trimet.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Digital-display.jpg

      They spell out the line name as “Yellow Line” or “Green Line” because some riders are colorblind, and therefore a color coded sign would quickly become unreadable as the letters would tend to blend into the background color.

      The same type of display (shown here at a bus stop rather than a MAX station) scrunches up to the left side and only shows one arrival time when there is a service alert:
      http://cdn3.vtourist.com/4/7319561-Displays_are_Located_at_Some_Busy_Locations_MAX_Portland.jpg?version=2
      The idea here is that it is important that people know that service is having delays, and therefore that doesn’t scroll. It is always on the screen so that people can get this information right away. The arrival information scrolls.

  9. First thing all station messages need: pertinent and correct information as to anything irregular, about anything on the line- so passengers know problem ahead, instead of just where they are. Has been especially scary to ask “Security” people about a problem back near the station I’d just left.

    And be told “That’s not our section.” Worse yet, knowing they’re telling the truth. And even worse- knowing in most situations, passenger security depends a lot more on accurate information than anybody presently called a guard.

    For public property, correct guards are called “police officers.” And the ones now called “guards” should be re-titled as “station agents”, and have their jobs and training be shifted to passenger assistance. Passengers would feel, and be, a lot safer and mores secure.

    And for buses or railcars, as I saw in Europe, every stop announcement should be followed by “next stop.” Saves a lot of questions to drivers and other passengers, and de-boarding with a lot less bag-gathering panic.

    In other words, before buying any system, before you decide first exactly what you need it to do, and its advertised potential second. That way,” your” engineers make the call, instead of “their salesmen.”

    Mark

  10. Those huge letters on the arrival information board are wonderful. If you have 400 feet of platform, you either need big text or multiple signs.

    TriMet has text on its displays that are much too small.

  11. Buy a 10 dollar clock and clamp it onto the tv side.

    Buy a 10 dollar art piece with a welcome message around the fat bezel the tv has and the white base of the camera.

    Then do what la does on screen for trains and buses.

  12. Train car lengths are listed on some systems, and it appears that ST may be introducing this. That may be useful.

    Also, we will have trains leaving from both platforms from UW Station for awhile, so “next train” capabilities are important there.

  13. Oh those arrival boards remind me of being in Miami during single tracking on Metrorail… 2 overlapping lines, the Green and the Orange, each running on 30 minute headways (!!!!). If that wasn’t bad enough, due to track work the trains ran right next to each other so it was train arriving in 1 min, 2 min, 31 min, 32 min!!!!! Proof Miami transit sucks.

  14. Toronto’s screens are better than anything shown or suggested here. They display CP24 (a local news station), with next train times on a strip below. This allows one to catch up on the news, weather, sports scores, etc. while waiting for the train.

    1. No. I’ve seen the Toronto screens; they’re similar to Montreal’s. They are more of an advertising/news vehicle than for actual service information so TTC doesn’t have to pay a dime and claim to be providing a service to their customers. Toronto can get away with those because the wait is never more than 6 minutes and trains run end-to-end/don’t interline so that information is secondary.

      That is totally inappropriate for a less frequent system with multiple lines to different destinations running on the same track or in the same station. Service information should be given the entire screen, not squished into the bottom or in a corner.

      For those who have not seen the TTC screens, here’s a pic.

      http://imgur.com/FBrB5BN

      1. So, even in Toronto they managed to find the one person that never takes transit anywhere to design the information system?

      2. There’s no interlining on LINK either, seeing as how there’s only one line. And there won’t be another one for years. Toronto’s system is absolutely better. It shows the next train info you need, and so much more. So no to your no. Yes.

      3. Still nope. It’s an ad screen masquerading as a train info screen. 90% non-transit info and 10% transit info.

        My primary criticism with the TTC screens is the same as the ST screens: information overload and focusing on the wrong thing. The transit information is treated as an afterthought.

        video: irrelevant and mostly distracting ads
        time: yes
        weather: nice to have but not necessary
        news, sports scores: irrelevant, people can get these on their phones on a much more personalized level. the only news that needs to be on there is anything affecting transit service.
        train info: needs to be much bigger.

        I want large high contrast text that can be read from 30 feet away. We don’t need more distractions. Actually, now that I think about it, Chicago nicely integrated train info, alerts, time, and weather into a color screen with zero ads. It’s pretty clear from the CTA page that they thought about what information is most relevant depending on where the signs are placed. Meanwhile, TTC just hands it all over to an advertising company who couldn’t care less about delivering timely transit information.

        http://www.transitchicago.com/traintracker/signupdate.aspx

      4. When a system alert appears, it shouldn’t take ten minutes of waiting in the traffic flow of passengers to wait for it to scroll around to show the first half of the message where I only saw the last half.

        By devoting so much space to crap that doesn’t matter to anyone, the speed and readability of the actual useful information is vastly reduced.

        Imagine what it would be like if they did this at a major airport, so that your departure display is mostly crap and you get three scrolling lines of actual flight information.

      5. One very subtle thing about the CTA signs that should not go unnoticed here: they have little numbers by the departure to show you how far through the scrolling is being shown.

        Sadly, they are probably one of the few systems that really doesn’t need it due to the frequency they have most of the time.

        TriMet, on the other hand, allows someone to show up at a bus stop, look at a sign that is on the second page of the scroll, and yell “Two #&%@ Hours!” because there is no indication that it has moved to the second page.

  15. With Link light rail to the University of Washington supposed to be opening up in 3 months, why haven’t we heard on a specific opening date. I wonder if we might miss the March 2016 opening.

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