New digital information screens bring peace and quiet to CTA stations

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The new screen shows estimated train arrival times most of the time. If you watch it long enough, you will see weather information. 

A new feature that debuted at the Chicago Transit Authority’s Oakton-Skokie station in April and Morgan station in May gives riders better Train Tracker information without a noisy distraction. The brand new digital information screens provide useful countdown times to the next train “at nearly all times” without the chaff offered by existing screens in the CTA system.

These screens are more informative than the loud and large Titan screens seen at more stations; they also rarely display the number of minutes until the next train. When Grid Chicago asked the CTA about its intentions in using the new screens, spokesperson Brian Steele replied, “They’re consciously designed to focus on real-time customer information, and don’t show ads, agency promotions or PSAs”.

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A Titan screen at the Sox-35th Red Line station shows a trivia question.

The presence of these and Titan screens are not mutually exclusive. In the CTA’s agreement with the outdoor advertising company, Steele described the relationship, “Titan chooses the locations to install its screens. Ridership and sales opportunity vary by station, and both factor into Titan’s choice of locations.”

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This 10-second video demonstrates how loud the Titan screens are. 

Costs and revenue play a factor in deployment, though. The new screens are paid for by CTA, with each unit costing $8,000, purchased from Global Display Solutions in Rockford, Illinois; this includes a one-year hardware and three years of support. Steele noted that these are “heavy-duty devices designed for outdoor environments”). The Titan screens, by contrast, generate revenue for CTA (and are installed at Titan’s expense). Perhaps the two could modify their agreement so the Titan screens show Train Tracker times more often, or in a short bar on the bottom of the screen.

A reader on Twitter asked how blind passengers are accommodated. I emailed Steele, to which he responded, “Important information such as service announcements and reroute information are currently announced over the PA at rail stations. The new screens do not have audio capability, but CTA is looking at ways to provide more information in more formats (such as audio) down the road as our technological capabilities at stations are developed.”

Which screen do you prefer?

In related news, Titan has installed an “urban outdoor” screen on the south end of the staircase on Halsted Street at the Grand Blue Line station. This screen provides transit information in addition to advertisements, like the platform screens.

N.B. Blair Kamin, the Chicago Tribune’s punctilious architecture critic, gives a full review of the Morgan station design on his Cityscapes blog. The firm of Ross Barney Architects designed the station. They are also designing the upcoming Green Line station at Cermak Road. They’re also a consultant on the Bloomingdale Trail project.

Updated 12:25 to add new information that responds to reader comments (about audio provisions and cost of screens). Updated June 14, 13:09, to correct information about the “urban outdoor” screen. 

26 thoughts on “New digital information screens bring peace and quiet to CTA stations”

  1. I like the new screens a LOT. BART in the SF area has had similar info screens (albeit in a more spartan visual style) since at least 1981.  It’s about time we finally got something like this here. Now if they could only solve the problem of bus bunching for *real.*

    1. Yep. Screens like this have been in place for decades in cities around the world. I think the Titan signs could have been this, but they focus first on advertisements and unwanted messages about how green the CTA is.

  2. The obvious solution is the one you’ve hit, have an advertising screen that produces revenue but always shows the next train at the bottom in a bar.

  3. The LA Metro uses Titan-sized screens in their subways, with ads/service announcements letterboxed and next train information on the right side of the screen. Very effective.

    I haven’t seen any train info on the new outdoor Grand/Halsted sign, but I did see bus tracker information displayed on the board for buses that serve that corner (southbound 8, northwest bound 56).

    Also worth noting is the Bus Tracker display at the westbound shelter on Grand at Halsted near the other staircase to the subway station displays train arrivals as well.

    1. Thanks for that info. I hadn’t heard that Bus Tracker LED displays were showing train arrivals as well. I guess I haven’t watched the “urban outdoor” sign at Grand/Halsted long enough to see that it displays Bus Tracker, or that may have been a recent change.

  4. i’m one who is (some might say overly) sensitive to noise pollution & ambient unpleasantries, but i must admit i’ve never noticed the sound emanating from those displays. and now i won’t be able not to hear it, thanks a lot. 😉

    1. Have you been to the Logan Square station when all of the screens are running? (There are at least 3 there.) I took the video (linked from the photo) when all three screens are running. It sounded like a train was coming! It was extremely bothersome to me, and with the closed environment, the sound had no escape except to be reflected off the brick wall.

  5. Does anyone else think it’s ridiculous that these screens cost $8,000 EACH? They are basically just TVs with a weather-proof shell around them. I’m sure that they have some sort of embedded computer inside them so that they can connect to the internet and pull/display the tracker info. But $8,000? That’s four times the cost of the most expensive iMac!

    1. I don’t think that’s a ridiculous price. That likely includes a service contract and warranty. And it’s probably more reliable than the cut rate $389 LCD TV one can snap up at Target or Walmart on any given day of the week.
      Buses cost $900,000. Why? Because they’re designed to last long. I imagine this screen is also designed for longer use.

    2. it’s equipment plus installation – including running a power conduit in an outdoor environment, connecting into the station’s electricty supply, adding a data connection… etc.
      Oh, and someone has to plan it all out beforehand, so workers don’t drill into something they shouldn’t and that the new cabling doesn’t interfere with anything relating to the trains’ operation. All of that takes time (and hence money).

      1. The post has been updated to add more information about the screens’ cost.
        They do come with a 1-year hardware warranty, and three years of support. And as Adam suggested, they are heavy-duty devices designed for outdoor environments.

    3. So if CTA were to put three of these at each station, that would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 million dollars. For what is essentially a luxury item warranteed for only one year.

      But hey, I guess it’s money well spent. At least we’ll know how long the trains are delayed because CTA doesn’t have money for basic maintenance.

      1. That seems reasonable, especially because EVERY station would have Train Tracker.
        Titan won’t put screens at every station if they won’t meet their revenue goals there.

      2. Communicating arrival and departure times is not a luxury in the transportation business, it’s a core function. Communication is key to both operations and service. Do you also find the arrival and departure screens at airports to be luxury items? How about menus in restaurants?

        1. Which, of course, makes one wonder how CTA has functioned all this time without communicating arrival and departure times.

          A significant difference between CTA and the other examples of the transportation business you name is that CTA arrivals recur with great frequency. Depending on the line and the time of day, it is assured that trains are going to arrive at an interval somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes … though the far end of that is rare. In most cases, you can be assured that if you stand on a platform for 20 minutes, a train will come. I don’t see that knowing the train will be there in exactly 17 minutes, 32 seconds really helps you out at all, and providing that useless knowledge to all who travel the CTA rail system is not worth $2.5 million.

          1. There are 1.8 million riders of CTA per day. Saving CTA riders 5 seconds a day with better information planning amounts to more than $5 million dollars a year in time savings assuming that everybody makes minimum wage. Better signage saves a lot more than 5 seconds a day and Chicagoans make more than minimum wage on average so the better signs are one of the best bargains in the entire city budget.

  6. If you’re talking about that screen that’s at street level, at the top of the staircase on Halsted, that screen does show transit information sometimes.  I run past there and have seen it myself on many occasions.  It also shows weather information.

  7. I find the Titan screens at the Logan Square station obnoxious and not useful.  I’m so turned off by the advertising that I actually make it a point to avoid eye contact with them.  And, yes, their noise is intrusive to an otherwise peaceful subway station environment.

  8. What is the screen at the Davis stop on the Purple Line?  I’ve only been there a few times but I don’t remember it making any noise but it was a bigger screen that showed advertisements and trivia.

    1. I wonder if the closed environment of the Logan Square station accentuates the noise issue I describe.
      I haven’t seen the screen at the Davis stop on the Purple Line.

  9. I much prefer the signs that only show arrival time.

    For all the talk of “branding” from transportation big wigs nothing brands public transit as low-rent and substandard more than the ubiquitous money grab to plaster advertising across every available inch of space. The Mayor doesn’t walk around wearing a jumpsuit full of ads like a NASCAR driver, so why should the City of Chicago itself?

    OT: CTA has a DIY Transit Info Display software program in Beta that allows individual storefronts/shops/businesses to continually display arrival times for their local stops. It seems like a great idea for a coffee shop near a bus stop or train station.

    http://www.transitchicago.com/developers/diydisplay.aspx

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