Thursday, January 30, 2014

Improving the usability of transit in Metro Vancouver

Yesterday, I posted about how our transit system in Metro Vancouver is pretty good compared to other systems in North America. While our system is great, there is always room for improvement. Of course everyone wants to see more service and more rapid transit, but there are other changes that could be made to the system to improve its usability without requiring a referendum.

One of the barriers to use transit for many people is the perceived or actual idea that transit is hard to use and inconvenient. When designing a transit system, using a tourist as the baseline user is critical. If a tourist can use the system with ease then locals should also have a great experience when taking transit.

One of the good things about TransLink is that it appears to look at other transit systems throughout North America and adopt their good ideas.

For example, the “T” logo that is appearing at some SkyTrain stations throughout the region looks like they were borrowed from Boston’s MBTA. The signs provides a simple, easy to identify clue that rapid transit is nearby.

Boston "T" sign which shows that a rapid transit station is nearby. Select image to enlarge. Picture Souce: Some rights reserved by BostonPhotoSphere.

Another example is the next station maps that are starting to appear at SkyTrain station. This seems to be based on Washington, DC's Metro system and provides confirmation that people are indeed waiting at the correct track for their desired train. There are some things that TransLink could improve.

Platform sign at Metro station in Washington, DC. Select image to enlarge.

One of my pet peeves about transit in Metro Vancouver is bus stops that only say “Bus Stop”. These signs are poorly designed because they doesn’t tell you what bus(es) service the stop or the terminus of the route(s). I have taken transit buses in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Calgary, and Edmonton. Every single bus stop tells the route number and terminus. TransLink really needs to consider updating bus stop signage to match what pretty much every other transit agency in North America does.

Another annoyance in our region is that people at the platform don’t wait for people to get out of SkyTrain before trying to board. In Washington, DC, at every stop they announce to wait for people to get off the train, before getting on the train. They also announce for people to move to the centre of the train. While this may be annoying, I think this is the kind of reminder we need in Metro Vancouver.

In Vancouver, we have yellow tiles that mark the dangerous edge of the platform at SkyTrain stations. In Washington, DC, they installed lighting at the platform edge that blinks when a train is arriving. This provides a good visual clue to stand clear of the platform edge, and also is a good accessibility feature for people who might not hear the train coming.

One of the things I noticed in Portland, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC is that buses have visual and auditory announcements about the next bus stop; similar to what is on TransLink buses. These US transit agencies also show and announce when the next bus stop is a transfer point to other routes by showing and announcing those routes. This is something that TransLink should consider implementing on its buses.

As you know, TransLink is implementing the Compass Card smartcard fare payment system. Philadelphia is also implementing a smartcard fare payment system. The Philadelphia system will accept debit and credit tag-enabled cards, phones with a NFC payment app, and the transit agency’s own smartcard. TransLink's system is also technically able to accept the same things, but right now TransLink is only focusing on implementing its own smartcard. Enabling the acceptance of debts and credit cards on buses in our region will lower the barrier to entry for potential transit users in the region.

Faregates do nothing but cause hassle to transit users. Of the transit systems I’ve been on, I always saw at least one person having an issues with faregates. All transit systems with faregates have attendants near the gates because of this. TransLink will need to ensure that there is staff available to assist when someone cannot get into or out of the transit system. I personally can’t stand faregates as 90% of the issues I've had on transit throughout my journeys in North America have be around faregates.

With the exception of faregate attendants, all the suggestions to improve the end-user experience of transit in our region would not require increasing TransLink's operating budget.

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