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New ways to find your way: An interview about TransLink’s new transportation wayfinding strategy

New ways to find your way: An interview about TransLink’s new transportation wayfinding strategy

New ID sign at the Bridgeport Bus Exchange
New ID sign at the Bridgeport Bus Exchange

TransLink’s Joanne Proft, Project Manager in Infrastructure Planning, said something interesting when I spoke with her and Jeff Deby, a Project Planner in Infrastructure Planning, about some new wayfinding initiatives rolling out this week: “How many times have you been to an unfamiliar city and don’t want to use the bus system because the level of information is complicated?” I had to pause and think about it. When I was in Portland last year, I didn’t think twice about using the streetcar since it seemed easy and hard to make a mistake when planning my trip. I did take a few buses, but I found it more difficult in navigating compared to the streetcar and asked others waiting at bus stops about routes and times since there were no schedules or maps available for me to reference.

Whether you’re new to Metro Vancouver or have lived here for years, wanting to improve people’s experience using transit is the impetus behind a widespread change in bus stop wayfinding across the entire system that starts this week. This latest strategy to make transit easier and more efficient for users started just before the 2010 Winter Olympics. The transit “T” (telling people from a distance and close up that this is a transit facility) was installed at most SkyTrain and Canada Line stations downtown as well as the Marine Drive, Bridgeport and Richmond‐ Brighouse bus exchanges. The bus stops at these later Canada Line stations were also outfitted with a prototype of a information panel replacing the information tubes we’ve had for years.

New this week

This week the first initiative of the strategy starts with new ID signs to accompany the prototype of new information panels at the Marine Drive, Bridgeport and Richmond‐ Brighouse bus exchanges. Basically, the new ID signs build upon what we already have by adding the “T”, listing the different service types available and providing the name of the stop and bay number if applicable.

Prototype of Our New Information Panels
Prototype of our new information panels

The idea of adding the ‘T’ (which will identify all transit facilities in the future) is to make stops more visible and unify the identity of transit across the system. Having different modes of transit like regular, limited, NightBus or B‐Line, informs users of the service provided. Providing the name of the stop (e.g. Marine Drive Station or Laurentian Crescent—Sheridan Ave) along with the stop and bay number when applicable helps to identify the stop itself.

The information panels will convey much more information than the info tubes currently do. Depending on the stop, TransLink is working on panels of one to three sides. So far, panels can contain all or some of these elements:  A list of key stops, zones, local area walking maps as well as schedule times in larger type than currently found.

These first bus IDs and info panels are just the beginning of bus stop wayfinding improvements that will be rolling out over time. The intention is that once old IDs and tubes are due to be replaced, these new IDs and panels will take their place.

Now, I know some readers (if you’ve indeed read this far) may find this level of detail fantastic, while other may find it overloading. If you’re asking yourself what this is all about, why we need it and what wayfinding is exactly, then you’re not alone. I put those and other questions to Joanne and Jeff. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.

What is wayfinding?

Joanne: How you design environments and facilities so that you provide cues and tools for people to navigate their way. Effective transportation wayfinding assists people in navigating through complicated environments.

Is it simply signage? No, ideally a good legible environment is designed to be intuitive from the outset. A legible environment can refer to building design, materials, lighting, furniture, etc. working together in order to make it easy to get around.

Jeff: Exactly, it’s a conscious and unconscious process for people to try to get from where they are to where they want to go. So for transit wayfinding in particular, this involves maps, signs, schedules and anything else you need to plan to help you on your journey. Wayfinding can be very broad and include things like design of facilities, but the scope of this project is more on identifying facilities, how to get around them, circulation, signage, mapping and scheduling.

TransLink's Joanne Proft and Jeff Deby
TransLink's Joanne Proft and Jeff Deby

So, we already have signage on the system. Why do we have to change what we have?

Joanne: We’re not just changing it to change it. There’s a need to coordinate the systems, both to benefit customers and for efficiency and ease of maintenance. There seems to be a different wayfinding standard used for each transit addition. You go to the Expo Line, you have blue and white coloured wayfinding. You go to the Millennium Line and you have yellow, black and white. Canada Line has a different colour scheme, and all have different approaches to use of text and icons, sign placement and type of information provided.

So it’s unifying.

Joanne: Yes, this effort is about trying to unify what we already have and draw attention to things that need emphasis. It’s also about creating a system identity which is what the “T” is all about. This is the creation of a system of managed elements that all work together to communicate that you can make seamless journeys and have faith in the information that you’re getting is correct and that you’ll be receiving that same level of information regardless of the different modes of your journey. It’s not about privileging one mode over another.

Jeff: The idea with this is that eventually people will be able to get onto the system anywhere, and although they may not know exactly where they’re going, they’ll know when they get to the other end there will be this information there that they’ve already seen on the system thus far and are able to figure out. It will develop a confidence in transit that gives people freedom and security.

Have there been complaints or criticism of the way our wayfinding works today?

Jeff: Our regular surveys have given us scores that are lower than we like for things like quality of signage at stations and stops. After we installed some new signage at some of the SkyTrain stops, we’ve had some survey results that suggests our wayfinding has improved.

Joanne: Wayfinding is one of those issues that everybody likes to talk about. There are some current gaps and inconsistencies in the messaging, which is the result of different systems, different operators, different jurisdictions and incremental development. It’s no fault of one agency or one particular thing. It’s part of the evolution of a system that’s trying to keep up with rapid change.

Jeff: It’s also about a change in the industry. The benchmark is quite high now as far as the type of information that you provide users. People travel many places and see how other systems work. TransLink wants to keep up with the industry standard.

Joanne: There is also a growing body of research that points to a link between good passenger environments, like making waiting easier and more comfortable at stations and providing better information, to a growth in ridership and revenue. By making environments better, it tells people that their time is valuable and provides confidence in the system, which in turn builds ridership. From an economic perspective, investing in good wayfinding can yield great benefits for each dollar spent.

Jeff: It makes sense. If somebody wants to try transit and they can’t figure out how to make the trip or they get lost, they aren’t going to be a repeat customer.

Joanne: There’s an untapped market of possible transit users who are on the margins when it comes to transit, and they could be more drawn to transit if their experience with it is better, and that’s where wayfinding can help.

Why are these new ID signs and information panels only being put in the Marine Drive, Bridgeport and Richmond‐Brighouse bus exchanges?

Jeff: The deployment is limited to a few exchanges at first because we are still working with CMBC service planning, sign shop and bus stop maintenance crews to optimize the information preparation, production and installation/maintenance process. The three exchanges are opportunities to demonstrate the new standard in the meantime and develop familiarity with it as well as allow for further minor design refinements if required.  We’re also awaiting decisions on funding levels and mechanisms before we can determine the best strategy for rolling this out more widely with available resources.

The reason these three exchanges are getting the new signs now is because they are the places we’ve already installed the info panels that are attached to the ID poles.  By putting the new signs in there, we can show the full kit. The reason we installed the info cases at these three exchanges in the first place (Sept 2009) is twofold.: First, when the Canada Line opened, we needed to put in signage at the exchanges, so it was an opportunity to install the new standard without having to remove any existing signage. These were the three exchanges where a lot of bus transfer was expected, and it was anticipated that customers would need a higher level of information as many of them were having their buses rerouted to the Canada Line. Second, Bridgeport was also a key transfer node for the Olympics, so we wanted to be able to provide improved information there and again had the opportunity because of the fresh start.

OK, thanks for the information Joanne and Jeff!

The new IDs and panels mentioned above are just a couple of wayfinding changes that will be rolled out moving forward. I’ll be posting more updates next month and afterwards on upcoming wayfinding changes. Until then, you can read more about wayfinding corrdination with the new fare gates and more on the TransLink website. You can also leave a question in the comments sections, and I’ll try my best to find you an answer.