June 27, 2012

Bus Route Pamphlet Improvements

[Editor's note: I attempted to do a guest post on another site but was unable to get any traction. The audience is broader than just Columbusites so there is a primer on COTA.

Many transit users are liable to make use of route-specific schedules. Most of these pamphlets will have a map of the route, time table of select stops, and basic information about using public transit. While the overall transit maps receive the lion share of attention, I believe that the average transit user pays more attention to the pamphlets. What can we do to make them better? Today I want to focus on the map portion of the pamphlet.

Overall COTA Map.JPGI live in Columbus, OH, USA, and our transit agency is the Central Ohio Transit Agency (COTA). On the left is an incomplete view of the official COTA map.

COTA has bus service which is split into three different types of routes. Local routes (blue lines) all go through downtown. Crosstown routes (green lines) focus on our north and east sides of town and some run through Ohio State University which is about 3 miles north of downtown. Express routes (red lines) are commuter services which only run in the morning and evening with limited stops.

You can also see an interactive unofficial COTA map at my website.

COTA 1 Route Fixed.jpgOne of COTA’s more frequent routes is the #1 which is pictured on the left. There are approximately 84 one-way trips made with peak headways of 10 minutes. It’s an important route in Columbus and is being investigated for a light form of Bus Rapid Transit. As the triangle transfer points in the map above show, the route has many transfer options. The obvious question from the map is: what can I transfer to and how frequent is the service to which I am transferring?

First, it’s good to see what other transit agencies do. A random sampling of bigger/respected transit agencies reveals:

·         MBTA (Boston) – The map includes all routes but accents the selected route with roads shown.
·         CTA (Chicago) – The map includes only the line with transfers for Amtrak/Metra without roads shown although it’s slightly confusing.
·         WMATA (DC) – The map includes the route with transfers to the Metro with basic roads shown.
·          TriMet (Portland) – The map includes the route with transfer route numbers along with transfer roads shown.

The CTA and WMATA methods are similar in that they promote rail usage. I’m not convinced that either agency benefits with this model as frequent buses should be promoted as much as frequent rail lines. I like the TriMet approach because it’s simple yet conveys route information. The MBTA method is good but it takes more room to show the map. It could be too much information for the COTA cutout.

I apologize for the hand drawn routes but you can see an interactive map Google Fusion Table here for a better picture of the routes. Regardless, is one method better than another? Would a complete map such as MBTA be worthwhile? Would the route transfer numbers be sufficient? Also, frequency hasn’t been investigated. Should it be dealt with in-text, with weighted lines, or not included at all?

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