UI for Buses

I went to Fun Fun Fun Fest today (and yesterday). I got to and from there on the Bus, which brought it’s own set of observations.

I’ve *always* driven places. I’ve never been a fan of the bus, in fact, when I got my car in high school I would drive the bus route in front of the bus, and on more than one occasion picked up other students to spare them from the ride. I’ve been known to bitch about being stuck behind a city bus, and somewhat aggressively overtake them once I finally find the opportunity.

First observation: Buses don’t suck.

I’m not going to say that I’m suddenly Anti-Car- but I will say a lot of my preconceived notions were wrong. The Bus is cheap (don’t ever let a panhandler tell you they need ‘bus money’). The bus is pretty fast (as long as you get on the right one). The bus is comfortable, and the bus riders are not all homeless ax murderers.

Second observation: They built the whole system wrong.

I know, two days on public transport and I’m already telling the fine people who built the system they are wrong. Well, I can’t help it. They are.

From inside the bus, you can’t see street signs or traffic lights or any of the things that us drivers use for navigation. You can’t tell what road you are on or what direction you’re going on it; unless you’re in the bus driver’s seat, it’s like sitting in the back of a van- there’s too much roof to see the signs.

Naturally, of course, the system designers used exactly these elements to design and label the system. You know, the elements the users can’t even see, much less take something meaningful from.

Bus stops have numbers, which are printed on signs you can’t see from inside the bus. The buses themselves have numbers, which you additionally can’t see from inside the bus (Did I get on the 7 or 20?). Buses here in Austin also have direction, northbound or southbound- which may or may not relate to the actual direction of the route (the one I’ve been taking to and from the festival is labeled north/south, but the vast majority of the route is east/west).

All you can see from the bus are landmarks from the side windows, and honestly, those are hard to see thanks to the advertisements on the outside. But landmarks aren’t used to help the rider use the system- instead numbers and maps are.

Numbers and maps work great for engineers, but pretty much suck for someone navigating by landmarks.

So now that we know the problem, let’s work on some solutions:

• There’s an excellent electronic display on the inside of the bus that could display tons of good information. All it displays is the current time or “Stop requested.” C’mon. Throw the bus number and direction up there, throw some information on what stop is next, Something. It’s there already.

• Let’s give the stops names. The stop is in front of a shopping center? Call the stop the name of the shopping center. The stop’s in front of a set of businesses? Give the businesses the opportunity to “sponsor” the stop so it officially becomes known as the “Riverside Thundercloud Subs/Pizza Hut” stop. This is WAY more useful than numbering the stop, and then putting the number on a sign no customer can see- and it could potentially bring in revenue.

• What else? There’s always a 3rd thing… How else could the bus system be more user friendly?

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