April 5, 2006

Underground Station Breaks

The DC Metro Finds New Revenue in a Tunnel. Click the image above to start. (Quicktime, 2.1 MB)

Washington’s subway system is slowly falling apart. After 30 years the Metro is showing its age. The system needs a huge overhaul. But with no extra cash that’s becoming harder to accomplish. I’m already paying $6 a day to ride the subway back and forth to work. My commutes are overcrowded and prone to frequent technical breakdowns. Without additional support I will soon be paying more —a lot more.

For years the Metro rejected any thought of allowing commercial ads for additional revenue. Architecturally it is a beautiful transit system, one subway officials felt shouldn’t be sullied with advertisements. But as it began to bulge at its seams the administration considered new ways to bring in needed money.

Last fall the Metro began to wrap train cars in large scale billboards. I might find myself riding home in a car sheathed in a thin veil of plastic advertising Chevy Chase Bank. Yesterday marked the debut of its second new revenue stream: animated commercials in subway tunnels.

Using a take on a 19th century technology, the zoetrope, in the tunnel between the Gallery Place and Judiciary Square stations suddenly I was watching a movie outside my window: an ad for the Lincoln Zephyr. One hundred and thirty-nine backlit stills quickly passed by my window: a flipbook underground. It was a bit surreal for no one had announced this matinee. My iPod was playing Zero 7’s “On the Waiting Line” and the music synced with the visuals perfectly.

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They’ve had these flipbook ads in the Hong Kong MTR tunnels for a couple of years now. I wish I’d taken a movie of them while I was there.

The best one had the wing of an airplane in the foreground, so it looked like you were looking out of an airplane instead of the train. The plane took off, flew through the sky and landed again, and was timed beautifully to taxi to a halt just as the train pulled up to the station.

Simple but effective!

Posted by: Stewart Johnson on April 5, 2006 10:54 PM

I’m already paying $6 a day to ride the subway back and forth to work. Without additional support I would be paying more — a lot more.

You should see if you can get a company to sponsor your commute. In return for free passage you can agree to wear a NASCAR outfit filled with patches advertising sponsor brands. And then cap it all off by drinking a Coke after each successful trip.

Posted by: Greg on April 5, 2006 11:53 PM

Wow. That was cool. In a perfect world, we would be looking at an art project. Or at least an iPod commercial.

Posted by: marika olsen on April 6, 2006 10:10 AM

Here’s an interesting subway project from Germany. I don’t think this would be too popular in our post-9/11 subway system. When I watched him attach a projector to the train, I imagined how I’d react if I saw him do that here.

Posted by: Jeff on April 6, 2006 12:53 PM

It’s also being done in Boston for about a year or more now, for what it’s worth. Mainly on the Red line when there’s long stretches between some stations.

Posted by: Adam James on April 6, 2006 5:49 PM

I’ve seen the same thing in Chicago last summer too. I even want to say it was the same ad.

Posted by: Taylor McKnight on April 7, 2006 4:19 PM

I saw a different one on Monday, an ad for a show featuring Anthony Bourdain. The ad consisted of a sled team of dogs racing across a frozen landscape. Caught me completely off guard and I think I was the only person on my train who saw it.

Posted by: Ron on April 8, 2006 8:44 PM

One of the wonderful things about these ads is how subtle they are. I’ve riden the stretch of track I videoed many times and very few people notice (I, myself, have forgotten to look on a few occasions).

But when you see it, it’s like looking out the window of Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz as the tornado is taking it away. Disembodied things seem to just be moving by.

Posted by: Jeff on April 8, 2006 9:46 PM

Comments are now closed for this post. But there are a few other entries which might provoke an opinion or two.

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