New York’s Transportation is Now Multilingual
From El Diario
April 07, 2004

By Ruth E. Hernández Beltrán

The growth of immigration has converted New York’s public transportation system – the largest in the country – into a multilingual space where information is given to travelers in nine languages, including Spanish.

At the beginning of the 1980s, when the Hispanic community was began to be very visible, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began to translate some materials into Spanish, several years after the city began offering bilingual education.

Today public announcements, changes in the routes of subways and buses, new routes, closed stations, interrupted services, and information for elderly and disabled passengers, are made available in English, Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Korean, Japanese, and Portuguese, the most recent addition.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, established in 1965, also publishes advertisements in Spanish magazines.
Thousands of New Yorkers and tourists can also acquire Metrocards, which permit access to all the subways, buses, and railroads, in nine languages through machines located in various metro stations.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates the largest public transportation system in the United States, which moves about 8 million people a day. The system serves one of every three users of public transportation in the United States, and two of every three train passengers nationwide.

“At the beginning of the 1980s we started with Spanish, and the first advertisements were directed towards those that were the public audience. The sheet with information about the Metropolitan Transportation Authority network has also been in Spanish,” for a long time, said Alicia Martínez, the authority’s director of marketing and communications.

“In the last few years, the advertisements have been published in other languages. What you can see in the subways and buses is the response to the languages spoken in the city. It indicates the patterns of immigration; Spanish continues to be the principle language,” since 28 percent of the population of New York is Hispanic, said Martínez.

The languages offered vary depending on the area. A person who visits Manhattan’s famous Chinatown, for instance, will take note of signs and other materials in Chinese.

For tourists, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says “Welcome” in nine different languages, at the bottom of the subway map. The routes continued to be listed only in English, though, because of the complexity of explaining the system. “Only the welcome is in every language, to tell them that we know they are visiting us, but the map can’t be translated into nine languages,” said Martínez.

The most recent translated advertisement from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is for its new product “Cityticket,” a pilot program for traveling on Saturdays and Sundays in the city, at the cost of $2.50. The ads are only being translated into Spanish, “because the program affects many Spanish neighborhoods.”

“Latinos are the largest group in New York, and we want to make sure that the community can understand our messages,” said Martínez, who clarified that not all the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s advertisements are translated; some are only published in English and others only in English and Spanish.

“Discounts for senior citizens, who pay half price, this is important, and it is necessary to let everyone know. We don’t have all the space in the world to include all the languages, though, so we have to start with those who are in the majority,” said Martínez.

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Translated from Spanish by Joshua Brustein

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