Bus commuter clairvoyance for beginners

20:31, Nov 05 2013

Question. When is a bus stop not a bus stop? 

Answer. When it's a bus "hub".

You might wonder what the difference is. As far as I can tell, the main difference is that everyone actually knows how to use a bus stop whereas no one knows how a bus hub works.

Up until a month or so ago I had managed to pretty much avoid using the Northlands hub or "super stop" as it is sometimes called (and by people with a straight face, no less), but the temporary change of address in combination with my decreased ability to walk long distances, I've been making use of this relatively new development in the Christchurch public transport.

And it pretty much sucks.

And it's not just me who thinks so. Now that my pregnant belly gives people an excuse to talk to me at bus stops and hubs alike I've had the opportunity to engage in several conversations with other bus users and they all say the same thing - that the layout and design of the bus hub is completely useless. I've also overheard a bus driver refer to it as "an abortion". So it's not just the users of public transport that hate it and find it confusing, even the drivers are having a hard time with it.


So what's the problem?

Well, the hub is essentially a 70 metre long bus shelter but knowing where your bus will stop along this not insubstantial length of footpath is, to the new user, a bit like answering the question "how long is a piece of string?"

Take for instance, the no. 28 which is a bus that I regularly catch home. There's a dot matrix sign at one end of the bus hub which gives the times of arrival of a range of buses including the no. 28. Great. So that's where I should wait for it then, right? No. The actual place where the no. 28 stops and where there is seating while you wait for it is roughly 20 metres further along. There's signage to indicate that that's where the 28 stops but you can only see it when you're pretty much standing in front of it. So the only way to know where the bus will stop is... to just know. Probably via some kind of public transport ESP.

You'll also be required to employ your newly found bus hub clairvoyance to guestimate when the bus will come since the aforementioned electronic signage giving the arrival time of your bus will no longer be visible once you're in your prime bus catching possie. Also, due to the recessed nature of the seating, you won't  be able to see more than 5 metres of road from where you are so you really will need that psychic ability to jump up and stand on the street and wave down the bus in time for it to see you and stop. Much like a tsunami, by the time you can see it (with your actual eyeballs), it's too late.

Not only is the signage with bus times not visible from your seat, it's not visible from a standing position either. This is because someone had the brilliant idea of making the sign higher than the roofline of the bus shelter so you can only read it if you're within a few metres of it. Because sometimes signs are shy and need their privacy, guys.

If through some crazy happenstance your bus hub clairvoyance should fail you, be sure to have running shoes on. Because if you misjudge which of the spaces along the bus hub your bus stops at, you may, like I did last week, be forced to run a goodly distance to catch up with it. And if you're not quick about it, the bus may take off without you. Let me tell you something, a seven month pregnant woman running is not an elegant display. It is recommended that the elderly, disabled or due-to-give-birth bedeck themselves with disco lighting and an airhorn just in case.

Sometimes there are helpful, high-viz wearing bus hub helpers to direct people to the correct stopping point. Sometimes. The rest of the time, you're on your own. Now, call me churlish if you will, but if a bus stop is so freaking confusing that you actually need attendants to help people figure it out, perhaps there is something lacking in your design? Because I've been taking buses for a really long time now and I've never been so bloody confused by a bus stop.

But never let it be said that I don't offer constructive criticism. Here are my suggestions for making the bus stop of enforced clairvoyance a happier and easier to navigate place for bus users -

- Lower the electronic signage so it's visible from further away

- Clearly post the numbers of all bus routes using the stop at either end of the hub with arrows indicating which part of the hub they stop at. 

- Intersperse seats all the way along the shelter so that the elderly and infirm don't have to do a 20 metre dash in a few seconds in order to successfully catch their bus.

Essentially don't treat bus commuters like they have psychic powers and everything will be well.

Have you ever used the Northlands bus hub and do you find it as extraordinarily badly designed as I do? Are there other public transport fails like this one you'd like to gripe about?