Sunday, June 25, 2006

Metro May Spend Millions on Spanish Signs

The Washington Times reports on the DC Metro system's latest ridiculous proposal:

Metrorail officials are considering adding permanent Spanish-language signs, system maps, fare-card machines and announcements in stations after a push by immigration advocates.


The estimated cost of the changes is at least $500,000 per station and as much as $900,000 for a large, multilevel station such as Metro Center or L'Enfant Plaza.


Immigration advocates say riders with limited English skills might have difficulty understanding how to transfer between lines or how to use fare-card machines and schedules, and they fear rebuke from Metro staff if they seek help in broken English.

Foreign language pamphlets would be appropriate, but Spanish-only signage would be a colossal waste of money.

While I was waiting for a train a few days ago, I was approached by an Asian man speaking a language that I could not identify. He had the name of a Metro station on a piece of paper and never spoke a word of English, but was still able to ask if he was at the right spot to get on a train going to that station. And I was able to answer. A pre-existing sign would have answered his question as well, he just hadn't reached it yet. Spanish signs would not have helped, but Metro staff and fellow riders will.

"Immigration advocates" should stop insulting Metro staff and the intelligence of immigrants and tourists.
The Urban Institute estimates that more than 1 million immigrants and illegal aliens live in the region, and about 40 percent of them are Hispanic. The region annually draws 1 million tourists from overseas, the U.S. government-run Office of Travel and Tourism Industries reports.
The knowledge of English necessary to navigate the Metro system is far less than what I would expect even a tourist to know. The basic information conveyed by Metro signs is either one of five colors, an arrow, or a (generally untranslatable) station name.

There are no signs in any language telling people "how to transfer between lines."

There are no signs in any language asking people to "stand right, walk left."

And if there were, no one would read them.

Announcements will be useless since the ones now made in English are typically incomprehensible.

John Fonte, director of the Center for American Common Culture at the Hudson Institute, called it "strange" that Metro officials are willing to spend so much on the change. He noted that they initially resisted changing maps to reflect the name change for the airport Metro stop from Washington National Airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport because of the cost.

After a congressional order, officials in 2002 spent $398,500 of Metro's operating budget to replace all signs, fare charts, system maps and literature in all stations and rail cars to reflect the new airport name.

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said concern has been raised about space on fare-card machines, which already are cluttered with information.

Metro includes Spanish-language announcements and signage during major events such as baseball games, he said. For the May 17 rally for immigrant rights in the District, Metro spent a "minimal" amount of its special-events budget on 8-inch-by-11-inch paper signs instructing Spanish speakers how to use fare-card machines.

The Metro system's website is currently available in French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Travel guides are available in those languages and more.

Anyone who has traveled to a foreign country (or even DC) should understand what a waste this would be.

For an earlier ridiculous proposal, check out "A Noisier Metro?" and earlier linked posts.

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