The trouble with buses

Submitted by John Derry on Fri, 08/02/2013 - 11:12

Commuters are deeply in love with urban rail but not so much with buses.

Massive fleets of half empty buses travel all over Australian cities shunned by people who just don’t get them.

Unlike trains, buses don’t just go in one direction, making it complicated to decipher which bus to catch, and where. It’s a chore even for the naturally gifted in decryption let alone the desperate and option-less.

London’s subway had the same problem 80 years ago until designer Harry Beck re-imagined the complex route map into an elegant line diagram that has become integral to subway users everywhere.

The trouble is bus routes in Australia are illustrated on spider web-like street maps. They contain a tonne of useless detail that prompts many to give up entirely on buses as a mode of transport.

From a branding stand point, a confusing and dirty map is bad, whereas, an orderly and clean subway style diagram is a smart brand that connotes reliability and frequency.

To me it is clear why the bus industry needs to embrace the clean design language of the subway map to market their extensive network.

Good design is the genius behind good user experience, and with buses having the perception of a poor user experience, this is an area that needs to be addressed.

I first thought that there would be an app for that – simple bus trip planning – but nothing is available that shows you a holistic view of the network. No app simply illustrates where interchange stops are and nor can an app give you the true sense of perspective on where you can go from each interchange station.

The subway map design solution is beginning to take hold in Australia. There are efforts in Sydney and Brisbane to design a bus map in the subway map style. Some cities in Europe and the USA are already trying it. It’s worth doing for every area that has an extensive bus system that needs greater appreciation.