From my principles of transit usability
I choose this one to test against the transit network in Minneapolis -
St. Paul Metro Transit.
-The people should be able to find routes to destinations.
On the internet or with a transit map (available in a few locations) a network of bus lines and LRT routes is readily apparent on the street however, the network disappears.
There are route number signs for which route is at a bus stop and a recent improvement is small destination tags attached to the route number signs like "54 Mall of America" which improve network awareness. This is a real improvement. But these signs are few, I wish they would add them to all bus stop route number signs with stickers or something without waiting for a sign replacement. Also helpful is the tag for frequent service added to the route number signs, but the graphic is probably confusing and should be tested, the word "frequent" may carry better meaning to most people.
There are some larger nicer bus stops, but one thing missing is a large transit map displayed in these larger shelters or in most shelters; it would help people find routes. Other transit modes have maps as a constant part of the human interface, trains, LRT and subways are known for route maps on the walls of stations on the rail cars large maps are above the seats and on trains the maps are almost always in view. As a result there is rarely passenger interaction with train drivers unlike a bus where the bus driver is peppered with questions as his vehicle is boarded or interrupted by questions while driving. The bus driver as a substitute for a map and way finding aids slows people getting on and off as well as creating a safety problem in traffic.
The bus somehow has always been different for map availability, yet it should not be. The old excuse may have been that map graphics were difficult to print, bus routes changed more frequently than rail therefore graphics were too expensive if they had to be changed all the time. In these days of desktop publishing, quick graphic turnaround, easy scaling up graphics and printing technology advances route maps should be easily and cheaply available from local area routes to total network in large size easy to read displays.
I take a bus to work most days yet I only know a few of the many routes that intersect my bus route and only know a couple destinations of the few routes I recognize. On the bus the bus schedule has a small map that does mark which routes intersect, but the destination of these intersecting routes are not noted and that is a limit to the network awareness. There are no maps above the seats in the buses as there are in the rail cars, instead there are public service advertisements or lame advertisements that are always for misery and doom: debt problems, smoking, disease, drug dependency, pest control and exhortations to ride the unknowable transit system.
The LRT route maps in the rail cars are not marked with intersecting transit routes or intersecting route destinations which limits network awareness.
- Interview random transit passengers on various routes with a set of
questions about intersecting routes.
- Place testers at various transit locations with a goal of getting to a destination, observe how the destination is found.
- Use testers with/without cell phone or other equipment to test awareness of information websites, information phone numbers, etc.
- Test bus driver interruptions at well mapped areas vs no map areas. Fewer bus driver-passenger interruptions speed up loading and unloading as well as distracting the bus drivers during driving which is a safety issue.
- Check locations of information calls and call volumes by widely posting the route information phone numbers in test districts and on the LRT and bus in those districts.
A network usability test would be to plop some people down in a bus stop, give them a destination and see how they find a route. Some people may be in a wireless network zone, carry a computer, and find the Metro Transit web site. Some may find Metro Transit's number, use a cell phone and decipher the phone tree to get a route. Some will try to talk to the first bus driver that comes by, get a bus route schedule and try to find a way. This would be hard if the next bus does not show for several hours (or days...)
Buses, local trains, bicycles, intracity train and bus service have existed in the USA for many decades or over a hundred years for some modes. A person could reasonably ask why is Metro Transit so backward in its navigation and way finding design. An unknown and unknowable transit network presents a barrier to usage and a method of "product sabotage" to social engineer the public to use a more expensive alternative, cars and freeways. If the Metro Transit system lacked a few maps or had a couple usability problems a person might not come up the the conclusion that there is a system wide effort of social engineering to keep people out of the system and in cars where the should be. But there so many system wide usability problems in fare structure, shelter configuration, navigation, ride comfort, lack of service that the only conclusion is that there is a system wide effort to keep people from using transit.
Wayfinding and navigation technology "solutions" are being proposed all the time without testing actual usability. For example, some sort of computer screen with "realtime arrival" of a bus will be proposed for each stop at about ten thousand per screen. I am guessing that a large map with intersecting route destinations and better signage would have a greater effect for a few tens of bucks. But I bet a dollar that the expensive screens show up before the maps, screens that will be quickly vandalized or not work correctly, another triumph of the "Intelligent Transit" crowd over usability.