This is just a quick observation: During the day I can read the route number and destination on the front of the bus from two blocks away when they use amber lights but I cannot read the same signs in green lights from a half block away. There is an article: Bus Signage for Persons with Visual Impairments from the US Dept. of Transportation, 2004 that makes recommendations but probably Metro Transit never bothered to read it or is contractually bound to buy substandard vehicles. I then thought, "What about the rest of the signage on the bus, what does or doesn't that do? Does anyone look at the whole package of signs and test people trying to use the bus to get to destinations?" Of course they don't.
An obvious usability test would be to check sign visibility in day, night and twilight conditions as well as different angles of lighting such as sun behind the bus, sun in front of the bus, and at night check various street light conditions. Not an elaborate test, but just do it. At this time, for me, bus signs with amber lights seem so superior I wonder what is the reason for the green lights? Are they prettier or cheaper or nobody got caught and nobody cares?
Many of the buses have no route number signs on the rear of the bus which, of course, makes it hard to see which bus has just passed by. Not that anyone would really care which bus it was, since for many routes another one will be by in a day or two.
Almost every day I see people that think they are on the "local" service when they are on the "limited stop" service but there are no clues inside the bus as to which route number the bus is or what type of service it is. On many transit train lines they do have signage in the cars that let you know which line you are on as well as maps with which stop is coming up, but buses rarely have internal navigation signage, legible maps or anything to clue people what the route or location is. So people just ask the driver in heavy traffic which bus they are on or the fare or the stops coming up, the driver has nothing better to do in heavy traffic than devote his complete attention on a passenger. Somehow the bus service cannot seem to learn from centuries of train travel and train transit, every old problem solved long ago by rail is now new and exciting on the bus.
The external advertising below the window placards are pretty large, approximately 3'x10', and lately most buses have big pictures of dead rats and dead cockroaches in some misguided anti-smoking campaign. "The same poison that kills (insert repulsive thing here) is in second-hand smoke", or words to that effect. Everyone knows smoking is bad but this advertisement has another effect: getting on a bus with pictures of dead cockroaches does not make my day seem happy. In fact, it is kind of depressing and disgusting. Rolling and banging down the street in an ugly disgusting "roach-mobile" is not what I would want to have as my symbol of transit. But hey, who's to argue with the geniuses at Metro Transit, I am sure this image is meeting the real goals of the Metro Council and the Governor. And I mean that. I am sure these ads are part of the image strategy the Metro Council wants to use for public transit.
A previous article: Bus Transit Usability Problems with Commercial Advertising. has dealt with the advertising wrap and its usability aspects.
Above the seats of most buses is a row of 10"x18" (approximate measure) advertising placards, the basic 40 foot bus has 13 of these on each side of the bus. Mostly hard to read fare information and other Metro Transit topics, (the type is set too small to read on most of these), public service announcements (again mostly small type gibberish) and lame advertising. Once in a decade an art or poetry card is tossed into the mix. On a train this space has the route map across much of the car length. On the bus it is mostly visual pollution.
There is a little holder near the front of the bus with dinky little pamphlets of the schedule and route map for (usually) the current bus route. The type is small, the map is smaller. Need we say more?
The amount of advertising on the bus outweighs the navigation aids, (if you can see them or if they exist), in square footage, visual impact and mass. The clutter, visual pollution and inadvertent messages like "Hop on the Roach-mobile Mom and Kids!" make advertising a drag on usability, wayfinding, navigation and image. Maybe we should test the following:
* Large fare placards near the fare machine where people can see them instead of asking the driver or instead of putting fare information hidden inside after people enter the bus and pay the fare, instead, place the information near where it is needed.
* Add large fare signs near the front door outside the bus. Again, this puts fare information where it is needed, before getting in. Some cabs have fare information on the outside of the cab. Why not the bus?
* Route number placards in large font near the front and middle of the bus on the internal advertising placard rails that say "Limited Stop", "Local" and "Express" so people know which bus route number and what type of service stops to expect.
* Large font route maps on the internal placards on at least one side of the bus, or both sides. Hey, they do it on trains.
* Removing all external advertising. Visual clutter that disguises navigation aids, wrong images, just bad policy, how many more reasons are needed?
* Removing all internal advertising. Visual clutter that disguises navigation aids, wrong images, just bad policy, how many more reasons are needed? How about that most of the advertisements are not sold anyway, they are just public service announcements about venereal disease and Metro Transit drivel about how great it is to ride the bus.
* Adding external rear lighted route number signs to ALL buses. Is it a valuable navigation aid to know which bus just left? It is for me, especially when the "high-frequency" service is three times per day.
* Testing external lighted route number-destination signs in various light conditions, day and night. Do those green signs really suck as bad as they seem to?
There are so many usability problems from decades of neglect of the transit system that the targets for improvement are as large as the side of a barn, it should be simple to make many obvious cheap and easy improvements. But neglect of usability is just part of the power equation of transit. The transit workers are mostly low paid as are the people riding, they have no social power or standing, they are treated like they are on the margin of society. People know when they are exploited with crappy advertising that gets in the way of living their lives or getting to their own destinations, they do not like to be imposed on and pay the externalized costs of advertising junk. Maybe that is why most people I know would never consider transit, especially the bus. Once people have the economic and social standing to make a choice other than bus transit they make that choice and it is not the bus; people can feel it is badly designed and implemented not in their interests and they want nothing to do with it.
As I mentioned above, bus service should learn from train service and maybe it would work better. At least test some of the navigation aids and procedures to transport people that have been perfected with over a century of train use, it is obvious the bus has problems.