Rethinking Transit #1: User Experience Fixins’ for King County Metro

One of the big problems with transit, is the lack of creativity to create better, more usable, easier to understand elements.  The last great strides in transit usability, where almost all done during the private* company days of the early twentieth century. Regardless of this though, I’m going to put together some ways that King County Metro could make the system here in Seattle more friendly to regular users, new first time users, people coming in from other cities for a visit, tourists on vacation, or whoever may be trying to use the system. With that, this is a new blog entry series I’ll be starting called Rethinking Transit. If anyone would be interested in syndicating this I’m all ears! Just get in touch with me at adronhall [at] gmail [dot] com.

With these solutions I will try to follow a few general principles:

  1. They have to be covered by current operating or set dollars that are in the budget. I might provide some solutions that are extremely small expenses – no more than a 1-2% increase in the budget at most.
  2. They must be simple enough that even a heavily bureaucratic entity like King County Metro could undertake with just a few brave individuals standing up for the change! These solutions aren’t going to be like “Run light rail EVERYWHERE” or “Make every bus like a BRT line” or “put tolls on the entire city and do rush hour charging”. Simple, basic, easy to implement solutions.
  3. Any changes that I suggest, that provide solutions to current problems should enable ridership to increase without strain on the system. Maybe a few minor tweaks or changes, but overall the system and Union people won’t have to freak out, they can still generally operate everything just as it was.
For any other suggestions on how to fix the system, I’ll leave those for specifically labeled blog entries. For this series though, I’m going to label each entry starting with Rethinking Transit. With all that out of the way, my first of the series begins now!
User Experience Map Fail

King County Metro has time tables and schedules available in some locations. On some of the posts downtown they actually have schedules and other miscellaneous information. On many of the signs and posts that show stops downtown or even in the outer edges of Seattle the number of the route is at least shown. Here’s a suggestion on how to drastically improve the usefulness of transit stops in Seattle. I’ve enumerated them below.
  1. Stop putting the schedules at the bus stops. If anything is on the post, put the frequency and a link to for real-time arrivals, but do NOT put the intended arrival time. The schedule is a lie, complete utter bullshit. Everybody around the city that uses the buses more than once or twice knows the schedule is a lie. That’s why about 32k people per day use the @onebusaway service. So just stop lying and provide something that can actually help people ride the bus. Get usage of @onebusaway even higher, provide some small funding for it, get more involved, but stop putting up bullshit schedules. Just because that’s the way it worked 100 years ago doesn’t mean it does today, so stop ignoring reality.
  2. The second thing that would actually be helpful is to actually put a map on the stop. It doesn’t have to be a complex map, but at least a map stating if the bus heads north out of downtown or south or whatever. A schedule, which as I pointed out above is completely useless, is silly but a map at least gives some guidance for people that aren’t absolutely sure which bus they need. I know, some of the bus drivers out there might bitch (at least I can imagine Jeff calling me an idiot or something now because I supposed to know every route – which generally I do, but I study this stuff, most people do NOT do that and shouldn’t have to). But seriously, help out the people trying to use the system by at least making a meager attempt to inform them where a route goes.
Well, those are my first two suggestions. I’ll have another entry coming real soon on how to improve the system. I intend to write a new entry of Rethinking Transit every two weeks, so the next installment will be on the 30th. Until then, happy riding!
In case you want more information about King Count Transit.