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Subway Train in New York at Sunset
Photograph: William Perugini

The MTA's creative social distancing messaging is on point

They're not messing around.

By
Shaye Weaver
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Say what you will about the MTA, and how it's handling its service right now, but its new social distancing PSAs are on point.

Maybe you've seen one on Twitter while isolating at home:

The flow chart is simple. If you're not an essential worker or on essential business, you shouldn't even be in the subway system. You should be home.

Other orange signs, which are going up on digital screens at subway stations and inside buses across the city, get to the point quickly, urging people to stay at home and "stop the spread:"

"Do the right thing. Don't ride the bus if you don't have to," one says.

"Subways are for essential travel only. Please keep at least six feet away from others," another says.

MTA stay home signs

Photograph: Courtesy MTA

These signs, which are by the same team behind the "Bus lanes are for buses. Are you a bus?" and "I'm not ghosting you" L train service change campaigns, are part of the MTA's plan to get people to stay home during the pandemic, especially given the amount of crowding its seen on its trains due to decreased service and fewer workers. Taking a more creative approach with to-the-point messaging is definitely grabbing more attention, at least on social media.

"It's been widely shared on social, which is a good thing—it's getting to people," said Sarah Meyer, the chief customer officer for NYCT. "New Yorkers are the smartest people in the world and, at the same time, we're incredibly stubborn and set in our ways, so we created a lot of different signs to appeal to different audiences. Some are more serious than others. The younger demographic is particularly not taking advice to stay home...so, we also created signs specifically targeted to populations that might not be taking it as seriously as they should."

Ridership is declining, she says, but she wants to continue to push people and businesses to stagger their schedules to help reduce crowding.

"It's really the only thing substantial left to do, given our numbers," she said.

Meyer, 37, and her team, including Greg Marchilena and Joseph Chan, are coming up with additional campaigns, signage and sign translations to reach as many people as they can, Meyer said.

"I've been at the MTA for over 2 years now, and since then we've been trying to lighten our tone and appeal. New York has the best copywriters in the world and I would hope what they see in the subway is something they can respect and admire," Meyer added. "In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would be creating signs for people not to use the subway. Our whole mission is to get people to take public transit, and here I am doing the opposite. It's a mind-bending experience."

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