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Photo of the day: You must be in one of the first five cars

If you’ve ever ridden the 1/2/3 line on the NYC subway, you’ve probably seen one of these signs:

Both the 145th St stop and the South Ferry stop have shorter platforms than the rest of the stations. That means that unless you’re in one of the first five cars, you won’t be able to exit the train when it reaches the station.

Signs like this are important to set expectations. But here’s the amazing part: the sign doesn’t tell you if you are currently in one of the first five cars. In fact, there is no signage whatsoever on the inside or the outside of the car to indicate which number car you’re in. The only thing you can do is poke your head outside of the car when the doors open at a stop and try to guess if you’re far enough forward. This forces people to sprint between cars in the few seconds the train is in the station, sometimes even missing the next car before the doors close. Talk about a user experience problem!

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  • Wayne

    Riding the subway is a bad UX overall. This is just one in a long line of bad experiences you can have courtesy of the MTA.

  • Amy S.

    And since South Ferry is where you get off the 1 train to get to some major tourist destinations, the “first five cars” thing especially affects people who are already unfamiliar with the subway. You can always count on seeing a rush of panicked tourists when the conductor announces that passengers need to move to one of the first five cars (which also suggests that people don't read the sign, or don't comprehend if they do read it).

    The recently opened new South Ferry station actually eliminates this problem, but I notice that the signs haven't been taken down yet, just to add to the potential confusion.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

      I haven't been to the new South Ferry station yet. They expaneded the platform to fit the entire train?!

      • http://davefriedel.com Dave Friedel

        It was a massive project for almost 5 years. They had to dynamite and drill out bedrock while not affecting any surface streets. I think the main purpose was because of tourism, but I think they added track as well. It was on Discovery or the History Channel at some point.

        PIC: http://bit.ly/UASq8

  • http://www.apogeehk.com/ Daniel Szuc

    This happened to us on one of our visits to NYC and as NYC newbies we thought the train needed to creep forward some more to reach the rest of the platform.

    So we just sat in the carriage waiting … waiting … waiting :) OK if you are in no rush and in tourist mode.

  • LukanX

    It would probably help to break down the problem a bit.

    1) They have platforms that can't fit all the cars
    2) The order the cars are in probably switches depending on which direction its going, and probably on a day to day basis.
    3) If it's anything like the DC Metro they have severe budget constraints

    The best solutions I can come up with off the top of my head:

    1) Put a little LED above each car graphic. the one that is illuminated is the train you are on. (Not familiar with New York subway, do they all have the same number of cars?)
    2) Could they use the PA system to inform only the cars that matter that if they want to get off at the next stop they'll have to move up?
    3) LED board up at the front and back of the car interior that says what car number you are riding.

  • http://www.thoughtballoon.co.uk/ Dan Eastwell

    Before they upgraded trains on the Southern network in the UK to have announcements (visual on a scrolling LED display and audible announcements) saying 'Due to a short platform at [station], customers must be in the front [4] carriages for [station]. This is carriage [1] of [4]“, there would be either no announcement, or the conductor would ask you to find the carriage serial number!

    He'd then say something like “if the number ends in 47-49, you're at the front of the train”..!

  • francois

    I'm a commuter on Southeastern trains in the UK. They have the scrolling LED display but it is frequently wrong, cueing an announcement by the conductor to ignore the display boards.