Wide-Format Keeps Houston In-plant Work In-house
Wide-format has changed the game for the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s in-plant in Houston. Printing Services Manager Louis Ferrel produces the signage for around 11,000 stops — each one needing its own unique information detailing everything a rider would need to know about the bus that will be stopping there. When the system decided it was time to rework the entire line, Ferrel had his job cut out for him.
“Metro was going to change every route, make them more efficient,” he notes. “The previous routes were weaving all through town, and they wanted to turn it into north-south-east-west routes in a grid. They said we should have ‘infopost’ signs up to alert the riders and help them find their way. We did it on Coroplast first, and that was out there for a year and a half — we wanted to make sure the routes were efficient.”
Once the routes had been finalized, Ferrel started replacing the Coroplast signs with more permanent 9x27˝ aluminum versions six months ago. The system gets more than 300,000 riders daily, he says, so the signage needed to be easy to read and clear, to ensure there was no confusion.
“The signs have a map of the route and information riders need to know about that stop — information about what bus they are getting on and where it is going,” Ferrel explains. “They also show the frequency of each route, so riders can tell when the next bus is arriving.”
Originally, the plan was for the Metro system to outsource the work, but when they priced it out, they got a shock. While it would cost around $28 per sign to have someone else do it, the in-plant could produce the work for just $9 per sign — massive savings.
Each sign is produced on an HP Scitex FB550 printer using variable data. They are customized for not just the individual route, but the individual stop as well. Each one has a unique serial number for the pole it will be hung on, and then the bus and route numbers.
“You can actually go on your phone and put in those numbers, and it will tell you exactly when the next bus comes, in real time,” Ferrel says.
The project initially was in production for a year, as the designs were created and finalized. Nothing could go up, however, until Metro was ready to switch to the new route. Then, Ferrel notes, they had just 60 days to get all the new signage up. The switch to the more durable and permanent aluminum signs is still ongoing.
Toni McQuilken is the senior editor for the printing and packaging group.