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More useful screens?


Can video displays on bus platforms avoid the errors of the ones in the subway?

BY Dale Duncan February 29, 2008 12:02

Video screens showing bus arrival times will soon be available on subway station bus platforms. The screens will first be tested out in a pilot project at Finch Station starting November 2008, and, if all goes well, they’ll be rolled out across the system, or approximately 41 bus platform locations, according to a TTC report [PDF] that was approved Wednesday.

The screens will be provided free of charge by OneStop, the company behind the platform video screens that already exist in subway stations, which display the time, news tidbits, a bit of art and the thing that pays for it all (and provides the TTC with the extra cash to boot): advertising. The difference with the screens on bus platforms is that they’ll be ad free, save for OneStop’s logo (which could be replaced with a sponsor’s logo from time to time). In return, the TTC has agreed to extend OneStop’s contract for seven more years. The company says it can guarantee the TTC a minimum of $6.8 million in revenue from ad sales over the seven years, but project that they’ll be able to fork over more than that, around $8.7 million, if sales are good.

Sounds like the new video screens (which will also display information on the weather, the time and other pertinent TTC details) will be more useful than the ones that exist above subway platforms now, which accessibility advocate Joe Clark refers to the as “mere vehicles for blinking, flickering and distracting advertising.” Clark has some interesting things to say on his website about how OneStop served transit riders during it’s initial contract.

“We were promised there’d be tons of screen real estate for TTC emergencies,” Clark writes. “This turned out to be false.”

During emergencies, ads can be overridden so that important information can be displayed full screen, he argues. Unfortunately, this has never happened. When a train at Kennedy Station derailed, one scrolling line at the bottom of the screen told passengers that two stations had been shut down. Information provided about the disruption to the Queen Street streetcar line due to the recent fire wasn’t much better. Writes Clark:

“On February 20, a fire consumed most of an entire block of Queen St. West. Streetcars on at least four routes (501, 504, 509, 510, and 511) were affected, and the ever-troublesome Queen line was diverted altogether. This massive disruption was virtually unreported on OneStop advertising panels. In fact, the CP24 news quadrant, itself an advertorial, gave more information than the rest of the screen did. Nor was the information updated meaningfully as the day progressed.”

With the advertising on the subway platform screens to pay the bills, perhaps the new video screens on the bus platforms will serve riders better. The next step (if I were in charge): provide riders with a number that they can call or text to find out (with the help of GPS technology) when the next bus, train or streetcar is coming to any stop throughout the city.