By Richard Slawsky
Digital signage has become part of the transportation industry as easily and as seamlessly as the check-in kiosk. At the airport, digital signage informs us of arrival and departure times, directs us to the proper gate and provides news and weather information about the local area. On the plane, seatback screens keep us entertained while in flight.
Digital signage on taxis promotes local attractions, and screens in subway stations and at bus stops alert us to impending arrivals. Even at service stations digital screens on gas pumps help pass the time, and occasionally distract us while the pump continues to run.
As travelers have made digital signage an integral part of their journeys, those screens have opened up a host of new business opportunities. Fliers can choose from a number of entertainment options, and those subway and bus terminal screens carry a variety of messaging that can generate additional revenue.
And in a service disruption — or worse, a crisis situation — those screens can carry information that can minimize traveler confusion and help ensure safety.
Arrivals, departures and scheduling
One of the most common uses of digital signage in transportation is informing travelers of arrivals and departures. The task originally was handled by mechanical boards with rotating numbers, replaced later by television-type monitors. Unfortunately, those monitors were prone to burn-in and were visually unappealing. Other options included LED boards, with red LEDs forming letters and numbers displayed on a black background.
The next step for digital signage to be used as arrival and departure boards is known in the industry as Flight Information Display Systems. Along with the traditional back-end benefits of digital signage such as real-time updating and network connectivity, FIDS can aid the traffic flow of airports by allowing people to see the flight information in multiple areas en route to their terminals.
FIDS also can make the information larger so it can be seen from farther away, thus preventing large crowds gathering under LED boards trying to read their flight info. To make the information more visible, some airports have used larger screen sizes and put screens side by side, with dynamic messages displayed across them.
At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, for example, transportation officials teamed up with Denver-based Four Winds Interactive to create its digital signage program for the airport’s Terminal 3, which opened in mid-2012. The terminal features hundreds of digital signs, including interactive digital airport directories and double-sided video walls, to help passengers better manage their travel-related activities.
“One of our goals was to ensure that modern, helpful amenities were in place for travelers,” said Randall Walker, who oversees McCarran in his role as director of aviation for Clark County, Nevada. “This helps patrons better navigate the airport and become aware of factors affecting their travel.”
Most notably, double-sided video walls featuring six portrait screens per side and reaching 15 feet tall are placed strategically near departure and arrival gates. Content on the gate signage includes real-time flight information, as well as destination-specific items such as weather forecasts and photo backgrounds of the travel destinations.
Over the years, airports, train stations and other transportation hubs have expanded tremendously. John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, for example, served about 50.4 million passengers in 2013, the first time in its history it surpassed the 50 million mark.
JFK, which plays host to approximately 70 airlines, is the busiest international air passenger gateway to the U.S., with seven operating airline terminals and more than 125 aircraft gates spread out over nearly 5,000 acres.
AirTrain JFK opened in 2003 as a way to help move the millions of travelers passing though the airport each year. The light rail service offers connections between terminals, rental car facilities, hotel shuttle areas and parking lots.
The airport originally used static and LED signs to convey information about AirTrain, but travelers often found it difficult to determine the correct train to take. In addition, trains can be diverted for track maintenance or other issues, resulting in the potential for further confusion.
“We have 8.1 miles of track and 56 switches out there that need to be inspected on a regular basis, so nearly every day we are running a bypass scenario where, for example, the Howard Beach train could be running on the inner loop instead of the outer loop,” said Hugh McCann, general manager of rail operations at JFK.
“The biggest problem we had was signage and how to explain to customers when we are running a diverted service,” he said. “For someone coming in from Russia, that means nothing.”
To meet its signage needs, JFK airport officials deployed a digital signage system from Tightrope Media Systems along the AirTrain route in early 2010.
The signage displays information about approaching trains, the stops along a particular train’s route and what changes may affect the train’s service.
Tightrope officials worked with the companies that operate AirTrain and provide its supervisory control and data acquisition system to integrate digital signage into the train operations.
“We now have certain triggers that work with the digital signage, so if we go into a bypass strategy the signage gets updated automatically,” McCann said. “Now, for example, if it is a train that’s stuck and we run a divergent service, all of the information on the digital displays will get updated right away.”
And to make the signage easy to read at a distance and provide information in a way that could be understood easily by international visitors, the system uses icon-based messaging rather than text.
This article was excerpted from the LG Electronics USA-sponsored guide "Uses of Digital Signage in Transportation." To read more, inlcuding sections on New York City's Grand Central and Penn stations and on using point-of-transit digital signage for generating advertising revenue, download the free publication here.)