Monday, March 18, 2019

My experience catching the 562. Improving the customer experience at rural bus stops.

During the course of the year, I board well over 1,000 transit vehicles as I use transit to get to work in Downtown Vancouver from my home in Downtown Langley. Due to the number of times I take transit, sometimes I have a negative experience on transit. These negative experiences as far and few between; I can count them on one hand. Last week, I had a negative experience.

Last Wednesday, I was invited to speak at a meeting in Fort Langley in the evening. I decided to take the 562 which provides transit service between Langley City, Fort Langley, and Walnut Grove. This route is special because it is one of only a few transit routes in Metro Vancouver that isn’t operated by the publicly-owned Coast Mountain Bus Company. Its operation is contracted out by TransLink to First Transit which is a private corporation.

Unlike Coast Mountain Bus Company, the 562 lacks a key feature of other routes, real-time information. Because the 562 is a bus that runs every hour past 6pm, and is known to be inconsistent, there is always a bit of anxiety when the bus doesn’t arrive at its scheduled time. The route’s transit operators also don’t have the full communication system like Coast Mountain Bus Company operated routes.

An example bus stop in the Township of Langley (208th Street at 82nd Avenue.) Select image to enlarge.

I was waiting to catch the 8:11pm 562 at Wright Street and 88th Avenue. The bus was running late, but I didn’t know that because there was no real-time information. This section of 88 Avenue is poorly lit. There was no lighting of any sort at the bus stop. Given that this is the first bus stop after a long stretch of rural road, and due to the lack of lighting, I figured that there would be a high chance that I would be passed up.

When I saw the bus coming down into Fort Langley, I started waving my phone around. The transit operator did pass the stop, but luckily saw me at the last second, and pulled over past the stop to let me board. I was told by the operator, who was not very happy with me, that I wasn’t being visible enough.

This situation shouldn’t have happened. It was the result of design decisions that can be corrected.

Bus stops in rural areas need to be designed differently than bus stops in urban areas which generally have good street lighting. Ideally, there should be lighting at rural bus stops. As a younger, able-bodied male, I felt uncomfortable waiting at a dark bus stop. I told my friend who used to live in Fort Langley about this bus stop, she told me that she would never wait for a bus at night there because she felt unsafe.

If lighting a bus stop is not possible, adding reflective material to the bus stop sign and sign pole would help make the stop more visible. In Seattle, you can press a button at some bus stops which causes a light to flash above the bus stop sign.

If the transit operator had the more advanced communication system like Coast Mountain Bus Company operated routes, they would have been reminded that a bus stop was coming up.

A few changes to rural bus stop design could make for a better customer experience. Waiting for the 562 should not be a harrowing adventure.


D. Yip said...

Nathan, many years ago Coast Mountain experimented with bus stop
flashing lights. Believe one location was on Scott 70th.

Unknown said...

Thank you Nathan for taking this bus. My wife and I have been taking this bus for years, her more than I. I know that she has been passed dozens of times, while making sure she is standing at the sign and being visible. I have given up waiting before and gotten a bike and ridden the entire length of glover without being passed by a bus before I reached Langley centre. There have been times that the last bus of the night has simply not come, stranding my wife on a rural road on her way home. Visibility, regularity, consistency, and service. Needs help in all these areas.