Design Matters at the Bus Stop


Customer experience is being increasingly considered by transport operators. There are many elements that need to come together for a journey to be an excellent experience. Here’s my own observation of where a design decision is having unintended negative impacts on bus travel.

Queue at the bus stop

This is a photo of a busy bus stop on Princes Street, Edinburgh. I use it on a daily basis. It is a large shelter but people tend to queue single file, trailing out of stand. It’s best to take your place in the queue because British queuing etiquette generally means that the people in the queue get on to the bus first, thereby securing the best seats! Some people opt to wait outside of the queue but this can then start to cause bottlenecks on the busy pavement.

Waiting at this bus stop is not a relaxing experience.

Have you spotted the real-time information panel? No… I’m not surprised… I’ve marked it with an arrow in the photo below to help you. Having real time information telling you when the bus is due is great. A quick glance and you know that the bus is only 3 minutes away. Here the information display is ‘helpfully’ outside of the shelter – i.e. impossible to see from the queue.

Info signI remember some research a few years back that found that an ‘informed wait’ felt shorter (i.e. if you know when the bus is due, the wait at the bus stop does not feel as long). Even if this is only a perception, it can still have a positive impact on peoples’ experiences.

I end up getting my phone out to use the bus app instead. At least there is an alternative that I can use, but it seems less than ideal.

This inconvenience is compounded by the advertising boards on the side of the shelter, which does an excellent job of blocking the view down Princes Street. From the queue it is nigh-on-impossible to see any buses approaching. If there was only one bus route using the stand then perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem. There are, however, multiple routes that use this stop. So a bus pulls up and then follows the uncomfortable negotiation of passengers who are trying to quickly spot the bus number before making their way through the queue, politely trying to work out whether the people ahead of them want to get this particular bus, making sure they aren’t too hesitant in case they lose their position (or are so slow that they miss the bus entirely!)

I’m a regular and confident traveller, but even I find this experience an anxious one. It must be quite stressful for many other travellers who find travelling difficult.

I’ve mentioned this issue to Lothian Buses via Facebook and interest was pretty minimal (from their social media team at least) because the bus stops and stands are under the control of Edinburgh City. A disappointing response because clearly as a user it is all part of my bus experience. Surely if my wait at the bus stop is a ‘good wait’, then Lothian Buses benefit from my overall increased satisfaction and repeat custom. I haven’t yet worked out who to tell at the Council, and I’m not convinced that it would be worth my effort even telling them. Would they take note? Would they think differently when next investing in new bus stops?

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