Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Subjective Perception of Bus Stops

With the City of Vancouver currently engaged in a long-term strategic transportation plan up to 2040, it could be easy to forget the everyday transport issues that appear relatively minor in scale.  Yet these so-called minor issues are often the key to unlocking vast improvements in the transport network.  In the current issue of PORT, advertising guru Rory Sutherland writes an excellent article on our perceptions of value.  He argues that value is as much a function of subjective perception as it is of actual material form.  Sutherland questions whether the UK should be spending £15bn on a high-speed rail link when it would cost 99% less to upgrade the carriages and stations in order to make the journey more pleasant. 

Where to go? A bus stop in Vancouver.
This got me thinking about small improvements that can be made to transport infrastructure which often get drowned out in the call for new roads or railways.  I am slowly becoming familiar with the public transport system in Vancouver and cannot help make comparisons with where I have just arrived from, London.  With very low rail coverage, Vancouverites rely heavily on buses yet I have noticed a distinct lack of public information at bus stops.  Having already traveled around Downtown and some key routes in the Lower Mainland, I have yet to find a bus stop with a timetable or map!  It appears that the transport operators expect bus riders to either know their route in advance or rely on a friendly bus driver for directions.  This compares to London where I have always been impressed at the level of information provided at a bus stop/shelter.  This information often includes geographical maps of local buses, timetables, expected duration between stops (see below) and finally the electronic countdown.  

An information sign found on all London bus stops
I accept the argument that many people have smartphones and can track routes on Google Maps, but not everybody has internet access and neither should they be expected to.  I would not expect Vancouver to provide all this travel information as it is a much smaller city than London.  Yet even the addition of a route timetable could increase the bus experience by much more than the minor costs involved.  If the city is to achieve the ambition of being the Greenest City in the World by 2020 it should start paying attention to the smaller things in life.  

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