All Over The Map

“Keys, bus pass, money,” the three items my mother always reminded me to take when I left the house. Keys and money are common reminders for most children, the bus pass, however, became a defining element in my relation to our town; it drove my development and guided my understanding of how a community should function. I believe in the benefits of public transit and would like to see it continue for future generations.

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Despite being strongly inclined to use public transit, there are some glaring issues that have always given me pause, mainly with regard to the signage and mapping of bus routes. Anyone who has taken an inner-city rail line is fairly inundated with information about how much the fare will cost (and can even pay in advance), as well as provided with large readable maps inside the station as well as on the train. In comparison, bus systems are extremely archaic and hardly ever include these fundamental elements.

Upon moving to Seattle, a friend was excited to tell me about One Bus Away – a free service that primarily serves to give real-time transit arrivals. While I have come to rely heavily on the service, initially it did me no good. I had the same problem I do in all unfamiliar cities: I had no idea where any particular bus traveled. Vague title headings “48 – Columbia City” help little unless your destination is the end of the line. For a transplant or tourist, figuring out which bus to take requires quite a bit of determination and investigation. Even locals typically only know a limited portion of a few bus routes, which is crippling when traveling outside of those limits. By employing some basic signage commonly found on rail lines, we could make this system more accessible and more efficient for users.

How often are you sitting on a bus when someone stands in the doorway asking the driver specifics on the bus route? Maps at the bus stops to review while you wait could help eliminate some of this wasted time and frustration.

What about passengers distracting the driver asking for directions or the next stop? Seems like maps inside the bus could eliminate this safety concern as well.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to find additional ways to obtain more ridership. What if we could encourage people in their cars to take transit? What if the backs of buses didn’t include advertisements, but instead had maps of the bus route?

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Or similarly, in lieu of a 40-foot long American Apparel advertisement facing the sidewalk, the route map could face towards pedestrians and offer an eye-level glimpse of the option public transit provides. Public transportation is a vital part of our cities and we must take simple, yet calibrated steps to exhibit the true worth of this asset.

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