Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Should train network maps show buses?

Since franchising, on-vehicle public transport information has been mode (and for a while) operator-specific. The old Met-era multimodal inner-city transport maps on trams are now just a distant memory.

Passenger wishing to make connections have to be prepared beforehand, especially if alighting at an unstaffed station. There is often now wayfinding signage at station exits, but rarely bus timetables or current pedestrian-scale maps.

Having to cross a busy road only to find out that the next bus is 30 minutes away discourages interchange and spontaneous bus patronage. Whereas a bus timetable at the station exit would be visible to alighting passengers and encourages bus usage, even if it's only on days where the bus is only a few minutes away. It's also better for families as there's fewer phone calls home and fewer requests for lifts from the station.

Such details are especially important in cities where train arrivals are unpredictable and buses are infrequent; statistics demonstrate that the train-bus transfer rates for transit systems with mode-based planning such as Melbourne's is much lower than for a master-planned network like Perth’s.

One way to encourage passengers to think of the system as a versatile network (suitable for many trips) rather than a collection of routes (each capable of only a few) is to introduce multimodal elements onto mode-specific maps.

Melbourne has started doing this by indicating points where other modes can be caught with a small square, circle or triangle. However these do not indicate where the intersecting service goes, its route number, frequency, nor even if it is running on the day of travel.

Further advances could be to show intersecting routes, ending up with either a comprehensive local area map or schematic frequent service map. While such maps are useful they can introduce clutter for train or tram-only passengers, especially if applied at the metropolitan-wide scale. Possibly the best compromise are several maps at interchanges for different purposes. Examples could include a schematic metropolitan-wide railway map, a schematic frequent service map (covering about a 10-15km radius), a local pedestrian and bus map and an interchange map for large stations.

There could also be scope to introduce further multimode features on conventional single-network maps. An example is presented below.

This is the familiar Metlink/Metro Melbourne train network map with the three orbital SmartBus routes linking outer suburban stations (effective later this month). Its purpose is to convey a more versatile web-like network suitable for trips other than CBD-direction travel, especially for middle and outer suburban residents.

Detail has been kept low to avoid clutter (the main problem with adding buses). Only the orbital SmartBus routes that link most lines have been included. Hence it could reasonably replace the train-only network map (saving costs and space) without overwhelming the passenger. Additional details of local routes could be given through frequent service maps at the regional level and all-route maps for those making shorter trips. Such more specific maps are more suited to stations and interchanges than on trains, which may travel over much of the network.


Steamtostay said...

Perhaps as well as showing the orbital Smartbus routes, we could also replace the green tram and orange bus symbols with coloured text indicating the route; bold for services that meet minimum standards, with that defined in the legend, and regular font for the remainder?

Peter Parker said...

Steamtostay - an interesting idea. But I suspect it would add too much clutter - major interchanges might have 10 or 15 bus routes for example.

I don't think you can expect one map to do everything, and clarity suffers if you try to.

Better to have a mix of maps, including schematic 'big picture' network maps, local area maps, pedestrian scale maps and interchange maps.

Jarrett said...

I see no reason why you'd show SmartBuses and not all high-frequency buses. Isn't there a very frequent east-west line between Melbourne Uni and one of the northwestern rail stations? (Forgive my vagueness. If Metlink weren't so secretive about it I'd understand this important link by now.)

Peter Parker said...

Jarrett - Route 401 is the service you're thinking of - every 3 min or so between North Melbourne station and Melbourne Uni. It's Monday - Friday only. It could easily be added to the rail schematic map.

You make a good point regarding artificial seperation between various types of high-service bus routes we have in Melbourne for reasons that don't make much sense to the passenger.

Those that predate SmartBuses have almost tram-level service frequency and span, and in some cases (Footscray) are former tram routes and/or ex-Met services. Some are even run by the same parent company that runs some of our SmartBus routes. They are easily recognised by being the only bus routes with service much after 9pm Sundays.

SmartBuses are the subject of a seperate government program and have tended to be promoted seperately with distinctive livery and signage. Their main distinction over the better ex-Met services is that they feature 100% low-floor running (although some ex-Met buses do as well).

Those routes on my rail map presented are an even smaller subset of the SmartBus routes - only the 3 orbitals that join stations are shown.

This leads us to the question of how much clutter is too much?

And if you want to avoid clutter yet still provide detail you can do so by having seperate maps for different purposes (eg an on-train map could be a schematic showing the whole network, while stations could have several local and regional maps of various scales, including of course a frequent service map).

Brent Palmer said...

@Peter: "I don't think you can expect one map to do everything, and clarity suffers if you try to. Better to have a mix of maps"

I think that may be true. As long as you show services in a consistent manner, such as colour-coding a particular bus route the same way.

Riccardo said...

The topology needs to be simpler.

Do things in a cross pattern, no squiggles.

Jarks said...

Local area maps are available, showing all of this information:


However, it is not one big Melbourne map.

In terms of clarity, if Zurich can provide a big one, why can't we?


Anonymous said...

One map can't do everything. A city-wide, road-based map showing rail and buses/trams is the need at one end (I am currently seeking one to find a suitable hotel location which will link into public transport to a wide range of Melboune locations to facilitate a holiday visiting relatives). I thought this once existed. London has abolished its single map, but has at least replaced it with about three regional maps, which is just about as good. At the other end is the need for very good local area maps, which you indeed possess.
My fear is that the modern computer-based world is relying too much on airline methods. Operators imagine our only wish is to travel from A to B, and that's all they tell us about; sometimes it is very difficult indeed to find earlier and later service times.