On the MBTA, when a train is coming you get an announcement like:

Attention passengers, the next red line train to Ashmont is now arriving.

As with all the announcements, there's a text version:

I like that they have the signs, both for general accessibility reasons and because you're often in a place where you can read the sign but not hear the announcement. But I don't like that they include "attention passengers".

Including those words in the audio version I understand: you need to catch peoples attention before you start giving them the information. On a sign, however, it's not adding anything. What makes it worse here is that the critical information, which direction the arriving train is traveling, is pushed onto the second screen. Someone who could have enough time to catch the train if they started hustling when the announcement first came up, might well not have enough time if they need to wait for the second screen about ten seconds later.

This isn't a problem for me anymore, now that I've set up my phone so that checking train arrivals is low-friction but it was minorly frustrating for years.

I suspect all it would take to fix this is editing some tiny file that stores the announcement text...

Comment via: facebook, mastodon

New Comment
10 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Attention readers! A comment on this post is now arriving.


Thanks, I enjoyed reading this.

Agreed that it's wasteful, I have a different suspicion of how hard it is.  "editing some tiny file" is misleadingly few words to describe BRANCHING the message, so the verbal announcement uses a different script than the written one.  Technically, that's probably not terribly hard.  Organizationally, that's more effort in keeping changes synced, making sure the same semantics happen in both places, and editing/approving changes.

Are there ever announcements targeted to other groups beside passengers? There is also some value that the announcements fatefully reflect each other (that is actually is the same content). From the pictures i would also seem that now it is 4 lines and without the prefix it would be 3 lines. 3 lines would still use 2 screens.

The text could be further condensed to something like:

Red Line to Ashmont


Everybody knows they are passengers and that they are here for the train so that information is redundant on the sign.

3 lines would still use 2 screens.

But the most important information, which direction the train is going, would now be on the first sign.

it would be 3 lines

~all of the information is in lines 2 and 3, so you'd get all of the info on the first screen if you nix line 1.~

edit: not sure what I was thinking -- thanks, Slider

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

departure annoucements are not a thing?

In this case they're not: you get two announcements per train: one with "approaching" and then one with "arriving". This is important information, but less important than which direction, especially because if you're seeing an announcement for the first time it's probably "approaching".

How do you think the employees in charge of the signs will benefit if they start omitting the phrase?

Somewhere along the line, somebody will have to deal with fewer irate passengers who just missed their trains because the signs were too small and verbose. I would agree that it is unlikely for anybody who can do something about the problem to connect the unfortunate signage with the irate passengers, though.