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NYC Subway to Install Touchscreen Kiosks, Encourage Even More Sharing of Germs

If you’ve never ridden on the New York City subway, you’re missing out. We recommend it — assuming you’re a big fan of long waits, overcrowding, hate your personal space, enjoy grasping germ-ridden handlebars, and like the heady aroma made possible by the proximity of large numbers of people. All kidding aside, yeah, it’s gross, but the trains do get you from A to B, usually by way of C and D and only when X doesn’t have signal problems or Y doesn’t have track work. Now they’re going to do something that makes New Yorkers simultaneously excited and horrified. They’re going to install 90 touchscreen kiosks, creating a “beta” network across the subway system that can chart the best routes between stations and list train arrivals and departures. You did get that people — strangers, millions of them — will be touching them, right?

Germaphobes will have until sometime later this year to get the heck out of Dodge, because that’s when the MTA — the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – plans on installing the kiosks. Look, it’s actually a good idea; an inevitable one, even. I’d love to hear what commuters will say about it when everyone’s heard: Every year, fare hikes and persistent service problems continue to disgruntle the masses. In the very least, it should be entertaining to see how the kiosks play out.

For this project, the MTA hired the Control Group, a technology and design company that we’re fairly sure has never seen our subway system and hasn’t yet accounted for the buffet of substances that will one day “decorate” the 47-inch kiosks from those riders with little respect for city property. The screens will feature delays (which are omnipresent), outages, and — you guessed it — ads!

A Control Group spokeswoman had this to say:

“The focus of our work with the MTA, Brooklyn Tech Triangle, and the Reinvent Payphones competition is all about creating a better New York City user-experience for citizens and visitors. It’s about bringing the innovations of the web and mobile to 100 year old infrastructure.”

This looks like a good spot for one of those shiny new kiosks.

But it’s really the interactive map that should be the most helpful, where a single tap can display the best route and its transfers. Of course, this is really just for tourists. Manhattanites, Brooklynites, Bronxites, and, err, Queens residents all already know their way around and will only get a laugh at seeing any kind of promised “schedule” displayed on a screen. But to be fair, our subway map does look like a bowl of spaghetti and I do sympathize with out-of-towners trying to navigate it alone.

In truth, there are some potentially awesome features which can benefit many. The kiosks will have cameras — which one would hope limits how often the kiosks are peed on — as well as mics and Wi-Fi, enabling a two-way interface with the MTA and smartphone-to-web access. Heck, the cameras alone could help reduce subway crime. Down there, I wouldn’t mind too much if Big Brother was watching a bit more closely. It’s not like there’s much privacy in the subway, anyway. Might be worth it just to get another helping of safety.

(Control Group via TheVerge, images courtesy of Countrol Group, and ehousley and toomuchkatherine on Flickr)

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