Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Behold: DDOT's new Klein-o-Tron. Or, 'multi-modal digital transportation display'

December 21, 2010 - 02:03 PM
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Gabe Klein relaxes beside DDOT's new multi-modal transportation display. (Photo: Dave Jamieson)

Yesterday afternoon D.C. Department of Transportation director Gabe Klein and other agency officials raised the curtain (figuratively speaking here) on their new ‘multi-modal digital transportation display.’ It’s a very clunky term, we know, especially for such a sleek and efficient object. The acronym MMDTD isn’t much better. So we hereby rename the displays Klein-o-Trons, in honor of the outgoing agency chief and his multi-modal legacy. But that’s neither here nor there. On to the displays themselves.

A limited number of these 32-inch screens will be popping up in bus shelters and office buildings around town as part of a DDOT pilot program, the first one having been placed in the lobby window of the Reeves Center at 14th and U Streets NW. We must say, the Klein-o-Tron (above, to the left of a visibly relaxed Klein, who has less than two weeks left on the job) shows a good deal of transit information without looking too busy.

You’ll see schedules and real-time arrivals for Metrobus and Circulator, estimated times for the nearest Metro trains, and the locations and availability of nearby car-sharing stations and bike-sharing docks. In addition you’ll get the time, the weather, and a local news scroll running along the bottom of the screen. All that without the info-overload seizure you get from trying to watch CNBC. Klein said each display will continuously update automatically, loading NextBus and NextRail information according to its location. (See the YouTube demo below.)

Even non-transit-nerds have to admit: It’s pretty cool. As Klein said, “It’s actually a pretty robust platform.”

Of course, the big idea here is transit choice, a major focus of DDOT throughout Klein’s two-year tenure. As agency spokesman John Lisle said last week when we talked about the displays, “If you can take the guesswork out of taking public transportation, then I think more people will take it.”

The purpose of the display is to help you decide whether you should take a bus, or a train, or a Zipcar, or a Capital Bikeshare bike to get wherever you’re going, at any given time. Because as we all know, the Green Line might be the best option right now, but it won’t necessarily be the best option in another ten minutes. Especially at a place like 14th and U, where you may be facing down a dizzying array of transportation options. The displays will even tell you how long it takes to walk to a nearby Metro stop just so you can take everything into account.

The prototype has been in the works for about a year and a half and cost about $25,000. Lance Schine, the agency’s technology director, who spent the last several months preparing for the rollout, said they may end up costing around $20,000 apiece. The agency has about $300,000 devoted to the program right now, but Klein says the city may be able to use some of its TIGER grant money for the displays as well.

It should be interesting to see where these displays pop up around town, and under what arrangements. Klein has said with no small bit of excitement that they could feasibly end up in bars or restaurants – an idea he’s explored with livable/walkable councilman Tommy Wells. For a while you’ll see most of them on public property -- usually in major “multi-modal hubs" like Union Station -- and the first one in a bus shelter will appear sometime in February. The bus-shelter displays will probably be double-sided and encased in plexiglass.

But the displays could also go into public buildings, like the Reeves Center, as well as private businesses. Klein said they’re going to see how they might make the displays as cheap as possible for restaurants and the like. They haven’t ruled out the possibility of advertising on the displays. (That probably wouldn’t be possible in bus shelters, where communications colossus ClearChannel has first rights.)

Klein said that the displays are really a companion piece to GoDCGo.com, DDOT’s new transit information site, and that they plan on releasing an application that essentially brings the multi-modal display to your mobile device. In which case we can all have the Klein-o-Tron right in the palms of our hands.

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