Thursday, January 27, 2011

Make the Bus Better

I was listening to a CBC Spark podcast last night and one of the guests happened to be talking about a study which showed that people are scared to take the regular bus and how to un-scare people. He compared metro systems (which could easily be light rail, trams, SkyTrain, true bus rapid transit, and the like) to regular bus service and pointed out some of the difference between the service that makes metro systems more accessible.

One of the most important accessibility feature of metro systems is enhanced wayfinding. At metro stations, there are usually maps at the station and on the train that let you know where you are and how far you are to where you want to go. Also on the train, there are normally announcements and signage that let you know what the next station is. At metro stations, there is normally digital signage that lets you know when the next train is coming. Equally important is payment options. At metro stations you can normally pay with cash, credit card, debit card, and transit media. You can also get change. Compare that to the bus.

At most bus stops you have no idea when the next bus is coming and what route it is. There is no map at the stop. Once on the bus, you have to deal with a cranky bus drive that can’t give you change and there is no map that lets you know the route and usually no next stop announcements. So how do you make it better?

While mobile application can help some people, it can’t help everyone. Bus stops at a minimum should have a map of the route and a schedule. If you have more money, it should also let you know when the next bus is coming. One the bus, there should be a map of the route (in real-time) and next stop announcements. As far as making payment easier at some of the busier stop, you should be able to pay for your fare with any form of payment and once on the bus you should be able to pay with credit card as well as exact change and transit media. It is the simple thing that will attract people to transit besides increasing service.

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