I know it’s been a while (again). Here’s what I’m thinking about right now.
The of a lack of a good journey planner and coherent information design has caused me a lot of trouble since I moved here. To outline it; there are currently two different public transportation companies here, SBS Transit and SMRT. They run their own bus lines and their own train lines, which luckily are connected and use the same payment system (unlike, I hear, in Tokyo).
Problem is that first of all there is currently no good journey planner system (you know, the one at sl.se for instance), which makes it difficult for me as a foreigner to figure out how easiest to get from point A to point B. Today, the two companies each have their own journey planners on their website, but not surprisingly, they cover only their own networks, forcing me to go to both websites to figure out how to plan my journey. The company created by both SBS Transit and SMRT, TransitLink, which serves to create an “Integrated Transport System” in Singapore, released an “integrated bus journey planner” last year, but it’s still hidden away deep in their structure, difficult to use and badly written. This is also the case with the SMS based iRIS system that SBS has; it doesn’t cover SMRT which makes it confusing, and actually quite useless.
My second whining is about the lack of implementing good information design on the bus stops. Today, a typical bus stop at Newton looks like this
It’s graphically very messy, with a lot of extra information that only adds to the confusion. On the other hand, the LTA [Land Transport Authority] already has a great looking design system (easy to read, esthetically pleasing) that’s implemented on the MRT [subway], so why does this look like it does?
(image courtesy of herenthere08, flickr)
Also, the only place where you can see the name of the bus stop is located on top of the SBS Transit sign (the red one). See it? It says “Newton Stn”. Imagine you’re a confused ang-moh [westerner] on a bus peering out the window trying to look for that. You think you’ll see it? I sure don’t.
After having trawled the web for a couple of days, I stumbled on Daniel Chin’s excellent blog about Land Transportation in Singapore. I sent him an email and outlined these thoughts, and he was kind to reply and agree to meet me sometime next week to discuss things further. He also informed me that work on both these projects are under way, but I nourish a hope that I’ll still get a foot in and try to help the LTA out as much as possible.
These are a couple of rough sketches of what how I think they should do it:
Firstly, the journey planner:
Think of it more of a web based desktop application, with as few clicks and reloads as possible, but which can still be easily integrated on any website (like, in this case, Transit Link’s). With dynamically loading information (ajax based), and broad search criteria (or narrow if you choose), and a mix of icons and text, this should prove to be a “next generation” journey planner. Especially if you can tie it in with your GPS enabled phone.
The basic idea is to keep it simple. Where are you? Where do you want to go? That’s all, really. Advanced searches should of course be permitted, but I’m pretty certain that 95% of the people who use this won’t need to do an advanced search. These are my first drafts:
My next target was the bus stop.
Design wise, I’ve tried to use the existing icons, colours and typography that LTA uses in the MRT, with a little tweaking perhaps. When it comes to the pole, my approach is “remove and simplify”. The primary focus is on where you are, and what buses go from here. Also, does this bus stop connect with the MRT? The only buses that need separating are the day and night buses, so I put the NightRider bus on a dark plaque with a crescent moon symbol to further signal that it is a night bus (I borrowed this from SL, thanks!). As an extra treat, I figured that it should be easy to change if the buses are being re-routed. So I figured that all the bus numbers could be on little metal plaques, that are easy to remove and replace if need be. This way, there’s only need for one basic bus stop pole, which is highly configurable.
Then, when it comes to designing the actual bus stop, my first goal was to make it easy to see which bus stop you’re at, both from further down the street and from on board the bus itself. Therefore, I put the name of the bus stop both at the side of the bus stop facing traffic (not the pole side), and also on the side facing the street.
Lastly, you should be able to see the bus lines from across the street. I have also noticed that people (me included) spend a lot of time looking at the bus line map at every bus stop, trying to figure out how to go where they’re going. They are great, actually, listing the streets and all the stops, both before and after this stop. Problem is, they are a bit complex. When you’re in a hurry, it takes a lot of time to read through all of them, so I suggest a simple “via” system to complement them, which gives you a quick overview of what buses go in approximately what direction.
So now what? Well, I’m hoping to get some feedback from Daniel, and perhaps, if I’m nice, even some names at the LTA, to come up and talk to them about this and to hopefully help them out with design in the future. I feel, as usual, a bit tied down, having loads of ideas but not knowing who to go with them to. But still, it’s a lot of fun.
Update: I found some more information about the new bus stops on LTA’s tender site; check it out.