2012 Best Travel Deployment: Digital Signage 


Project: Washington State Ferries
Client: Washington State Ferries
Submitted by: Four Winds Interactive

Brief overview of the project/technology:

As part of its dedication to providing exemplary service to its full customer base, the Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division (WSF) was looking for a way to communicate more effectively with its hearing-impaired passengers. Many of the announcements made over the public address system on vessels and in terminals are of the everyday variety, such as the arrival or departure of a vessel. Others however, especially those related to safety or government regulations (such as the announcement of a lost child or bicycle left on the passenger deck) carried with them a greater sense of urgency.     

The digital communications program successfully addressed three needs: improved communications to hearing impaired passengers, which WSF views as a moral, as well as legal obligation; increased service to customers by providing them with information about things to do at their destinations; and, creation of an entirely new revenue stream, whose potential the agency has barely begun to tap.    

Working with the disabled community in Washington State, WSF determined that a “visual paging system” consisting of video screens running text messages would be the most effective way of communicating with hearing-impaired and other passengers with disabilities. Passengers will now receive important alerts and announcements visually through the digital signage network. Some examples include safety messages, vessel arrival and departure notices, lost item locator, and emergency alerts.    

Marta Coursey commented, "This system is going to be an integral addition to our current communication plan both in the terminals and on our vessels. It has vastly expanded our communication abilities so now we're able to push visual messaging out to the majority of our passengers, including those with hearing disabilities."    

Additionally, the system is being used for advertising, giving local businesses the option to place their ads throughout the network. Half of the passengers are commuters who ride the ferry to and from work on a daily basis while the other half come from around the world to ride the ferry for the unique experience of it. They’re giving local businesses the ability to communicate with a captive audience and offer suggestions on what to do when they reach their destinations. As the system is rolled out to more vessels, WSF expects more advertisers to take advantage of this unique opportunity. 

Objectives of the deployment or the technology:

One additional challenge facing WSF was declining ridership. Although it serves more than 22 million passengers each year, the numbers have been trending downward with the soft economy. The agency was looking for ways to increase non-rider revenue while providing additional value to passengers in an effort to reverse the downward trend.

Results achieved relative to the objectives:

The pilot program was deemed a success, justifying a fleet-wide rollout to all vessels and terminals. One of the unexpected benefits of the pilot project was showing long-time state employees that despite some of the limitations facing the public sector in these economic times, customer service, marketing and revenue-generation can still be state of the art. It has helped re-energize WSF and spurred creative thinking in other areas. The installation has received some great recognition in the press.

Size and geographic location(s) of the deployment:

The pilot program began on two vessels that were traveling a single route as well as two terminals.  The project is already expanding to include the remainder of the vessels and terminals. WSF has 22 vessels, as well as 20 terminals that range from a small shelter with no staff to large buildings that process thousands of riders each week.  Washington State Ferries serves more than 22 million passengers each year.

Erin Dougherty of Four Winds Interactive (right) accepts the award from Jennifer Nye, DSA EVP - Digital Signage.

Selected judges’ comments:
  • Messaging to the hearing-impaired is an often overlooked application for digital signage. It's good to see that starting with this concept Washington State Ferries has also been able to build in other functionality for its network, and even revenue generation. The back end is a well-thought-out solution for non-technical users. It's to be hoped that as the network develops it won't dilute the appeal of its simple, direct messaging with unnecessarily complicated features.
  • A good use for digital signage…as communications tools for hearing impaired. Networks of digital signs like this should be deployed throughout all transportation terminals.
  • Excellent example of "ease of use" in a system for ADA compliance. This translates well for other compliance communications such as Health Act (nutritional info), worker safety, etc.
  • Good use of the signage system to support hearing impaired customers.
  • Nice implementation of an ADA notifier within the expanded feature set of advertising and trip planning
  • Good description of the project. Good strategy.


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