Regional Transit Diagram: Good Start, but New York & New Jersey Need a Better Transit User Experience

In 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New Jersey Transit, and Port Authority of New York & New Jersey released a Regional Transit Diagram–dubbed the first of its kind for the region–to help fans and media visiting for Super Bowl XLVIII in early 2014. The diagram was designed by Yoshiki Waterhouse of Vignelli Associates, in a style reminiscent of the 1972 subway map designed by Massimo Vignelli. It depicts the New York City Subway, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North in Manhattan below 96th Street, and PATH, Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, Newark Light Rail, and NJ Transit passenger rail service in Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark, and adjoining areas in New Jersey.

Regional Transit Diagram

Regional Transit Diagram

The Regional Transit Diagram represents the kind of collaboration that’s sorely needed among the key agencies for the nation’s most transit-rich region, but the diagram suffers from some limitations that show us why we need a better transit user experience.

Incomplete Coverage – When the diagram was first published, Daily Intelligencer criticized it for only showing a portion of the urban core, saying it, “Includes only touristy parts of Manhattan and New Jersey” and closing with, “Welcome, outsiders, to half of one borough!” Although named the Regional Transit Diagram, it only displays transit options below 96th Street in Manhattan, but omits services in northern Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Long Island, or Connecticut.

Inconsistent Availability – The diagram has been updated annually by the MTA, and the latest edition is available on the agency’s website, but the New Jersey Transit website still has the original 2014 edition, and the diagram does not appear at all on the Port Authority website. A search for ‘Regional Transit Diagram’ returned 74 results, none of which was the diagram itself. The result is an inconsistent user experience: someone visiting the MTA website will see the latest version of the diagram with the 7 train extension to Hudson Yards opened in 2015, and the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway opened at the end of 2016, whereas someone visiting the NJ Transit or Port Authority websites will see either an outdated version of the diagram, or nothing at all.

Minuscule Reach – Another critical challenge for the transit diagram is its reach, which is minuscule compared to the New York City Subway Map. The diagram was initially included in Super Bowl marketing materials for an estimated 80,000 Super Bowl attendees in 2014, but today, it can only be found on the Maps page on the MTA website. In contrast, the New York City Subway Map appears throughout the system’s 468 stations and 6,311 subway cars, which are seen by 5,380,184 riders on an average weekday. The map is also available in numerous apps used by millions of transit riders, whereas the regional transit diagram is only available in PDF format, which is particularly ill-suited to the smaller screens on phones.

A good map is an essential part of the transit user experience because it frames how people think about getting around in urban areas. The region’s economic and environmental health, competitiveness with other urban regions, and attractiveness for residents and businesses all depend on greater transit use. To make the transit experience as convenient as driving is perceived to be, a truly regional transit map needs to show people how to get to and from anywhere in the region, so they can confidently choose transit options that reduce stress, ease congestion and pollution, and increase safety for everyone.

The current limitations of the Regional Transit Diagram can be overcome if the agencies combine efforts and resources to produce a single, comprehensive map of transit services in the region. The New York & New Jersey Subway Map provides a blueprint for this that’s based on the most widely-recognized transit map–the New York City Subway Map–seen by over 2 billion riders annually. If all three agencies agreed to jointly develop and maintain a map, display it throughout all systems, and license it for use in apps and guidebooks, the New York & New Jersey region could join the ranks of other global cities like Berlin, London, Philadelphia, and Tokyo, who are realizing the benefits of giving residents and visitors a complete picture of rapid transit services, regardless of operator.

  1. Joe Lhota is Back. That’s Good News for the MTA, and Transit Customers: […] the bottlenecks and enable more one-seat rides to destinations throughout the region. A truly regional approach to transit needs to show people how to get to and from anywhere in the region, so they can confidently choose […] Reply