MTA testing new digital touchscreens

Subway riders at Grand Central Terminal will help determine whether the new digital touch screen information kiosks become a feature throughout the system.

After an initial five-machine, five-station pilot in 2011, the MTA partnered with two companies — Control Group and CBS Outdoor — to create digital information touchscreens for the expansion of the agency’s On The Go digital kiosk program.

“We want to find out what people like, what they don’t like. And then, if the decision is made to move forward and roll this out system wide, we have to choose a path,” said Paul Fleuranges, vice president of corporate communication at NYC Transit. “But we’re not there yet. We have a lot more learning to do.”

Grand Central Terminal has had 17 machines from Control Group in operation — one is being replaced due to a screen issue — since last week. They were installed from the 42nd Street shuttle area to the mezzanine and the Nos. 4, 5, 6 train platforms. More machines are expected to go online at Penn Station and Times Square next week.

By the end of May, the MTA aims to have roughly 145 digital kiosks in operation — 90 from Control Group and about 55 from CBS Outdoor. Stations with the CBS Outdoor machines will include seven stops along the R and G lines.

This latest rollout aims to find out whether riders can intuitively tell the screens are interactive and that the machines can offer station-specific information about service changes, reroutes or broken elevators.

That kind of information will help the MTA sell advertising space on the machines, money that can cover installation costs and bring in extra revenue to NYC Transit, Fleuranges said.

“Advertisers are drawn to that, because it means that the screen is valuable to them,” Fleuranges said of station-tailored transit information. “We have to prove to advertisers and to brands who want to engage their customers through digital medium that we’re worthy of their advertising dollars.”

Fleuranges noted that these machines could undergo more changes and that there’s no guarantee that the MTA will add more kiosks.

At Grand Central Terminal this week, there were riders who found them useful, while other people struggled with the machine.

“I was trying to find a map. Normally it’s hard to find one,” said Amber Walsh, a 37-year-old from Connecticut who now lives in Haiti. “It’s nice that it’s interactive.”

Bob Hardman, a 42-year-old from Connecticut who was using the machine with his teenage daughter, found that it was quick, but the screen did not always register his touch or pull up the information he was seeking.

“It’s like a cellphone that doesn’t work well,” Hardman said. “The tech savvy 13-year-old says they’re confusing.”

(With Lauren Holter)