Back in 2005, NSCAD grad Michelle Jospe won an award for her clever and effective redesign of Halifax Transit’s route map and bus stop signage.
Jospe’s redesigned bus stop signs organized routes numbers according to next major destination, and included a second street level sign with route and schedule information, including what connections could be made at consecutive stops. If you were to walk by a Jospe bus stop, you could see which routes were headed to say, Dartmouth, and which to Lacewood. You could also find out when the next bus was due, and what routes it would connect with down the line.
As wonderful as the signage was, Jospe’s main design triumph was solving the problem of Halifax’s congested route map. She discarded the commonly used colour coding system in favour of black lines with directional boxes and route numbers. The result is clean and simple, and allows space for additional information, such as new express routes, or even alternative cycling and walking routes, which currently have their own map.
Shortly after she won her award, Halifax Transit met with Jospe and her professor, John deWolf, to hear about how she cracked the design. But they didn’t pursue the matter further. Then city-spokesperson Lori Patterson explained at the time that there wasn’t any budget to redesign signage or the route map, which had last been reworked in 1990, to the tune of $70,000.
Fast forward 11 years, and our bus stop signs, all 2600 of them, are about to be replaced for the second time.
The first replacement happened in 2007, only two years after Jospe’s design won accolades from the Society of Environmental Graphic Design. Instead of taking the opportunity to make the signs better, Halifax Transit simply changed the GoTime prefix number and updated its logo.
The second full scale replacement will happen this summer, when we are scheduled to replace our 2,600 bus stop signs again.
A new onboard GPS system will mean the end of GoTime, and the beginning of real-time bus location system for transit riders with access to a phone. The new system means new numbers, hence the full-scale replacement of signage.
The estimated cost of the new signs, says city spokesperson Tiffany Chase, is $194,000, not including “the purchase of decals, hardware for mounting, or the cost for installation.”
Chase says the only wayfinding improvements to the new signs are the fact that they will be flag mounted and double sided, to make stops easier to see for people coming from either direction. There’s “limited real estate” for changes to the signs themselves, says Chase. Jospe herself did add a second, street level sign to her reimagined bus stop, but only after vastly improving the information on offer on the first sign, which is roughly the size of Halifax Transit’s current signs.
Chase points out that Halifax Transit has squeaked in more information on buses themselves. The old “90 Larry Uteck” is now the “90 Larry Uteck via Bedford Hwy,” thanks to new technology allowing more characters on the displays on the fronts of buses.
But for the foreseeable future, it appears our brand new bus stop signs will remain sub-par.
“For a lot of people, bus systems in general are confusing, intimidating and complex,” says John deWolf, Jospe’s former instructor at NSCAD and an environmental graphic designer with Form:Media in Dartmouth.
But stop signs, says deWolf, have the potential to inform, explain, and even promote the bus system.
At that pedestrian level, when you’re walking by or waiting for someone outside a coffee shop, you see this thing. If there’s an explanatory component to it that helps describe what a great system this is, and how you can get to different areas of the city conveniently on the system… I think that will encourage ridership. And I think ultimately that’s what you want.
Yes, indeed, that is what Halifax Transit wants. It’s actually what the whole city desperately needs: to increase the number of trips we are taking via sustainable modes like buses, walking and cycling, to help us avoid the catastrophically high costs of a car-centred city.
For that, we need new riders. We need folks who haven’t hopped on the bus before. We need people like my partner, who even though he won a free, year-long bus pass after participating in Halifax Transit’s latest public consultation, rarely uses the thing out of frustration and confusion. There’s a steep learning curve for new riders on the street because our bus system is built for people who already know how to use it.
“It’s a combination of making sure that the user who is already engaged in the system understands the system as a whole and is encouraged to use the system more often,” says deWolf. “And then on top of that, for new users, it’s a bit of branding and advertising. It is presenting why you should consider using the bus.”
It’s true that smartphones (with good batteries and data plans) can make even the most inaccessible transit system navigable. But they can’t promote the bus to passersby, and they can’t help us quickly figure out if the approaching #60 is heading across the bridge or over to Mumford. A well-designed bus stop sign can do both and more.
Right now Halifax Transit has 2,600 signs that only serve to alienate new riders. We are not only wasting this valuable potential promotional space, but actually having it work against our goals.
In the coming years, when Halifax Transit’s major route overhaul starts its implementation phase, all riders will be in the position of having to find their way in a new system. We will all need better signage.
Halifax Transit needs to improve the signs we have now, and consider bringing in street level signage that will help explain and promote our bus system to both our current and future riders.
The number 7 bus frequently displays the wrong bus name on the front of running buses. When it is on Robie, it displays Robie, even though it is the Gottingen-bound bus. This would be impossible to navigate for a tourist and would take them in the exactly wrong direction if they were using a schedule and the bus signage. Luckily that route is a loop.
Pressing the “sign change” button is almost definitely not a “bus operator” task, and would require union intervention.
Once again just another empty rebranding exercise.
Rebranding might work if actual change came with it. The proverbial lipstick on a pig. And the lipstick ain’t all that great to begin with. Given it cost $300,000 you’d think we’d have at least gotten a nicer pig.
WCMA (World Class My Ass)
Many Ottawa stops have route schedules on them, stating when the bus will be at that stop. Much easier than phoning in. I can’t get that excited about real time information – I’d rather be able to count on the bus being on time, than know it’s fifteen minutes late. Neither better signs nor better scheduling will solve the problem of overlapping routes, under serviced areas, and long travel times. However, it’s foolish to replace all the signs and not make them more useful.
This is hilarious, lol
“The estimated cost of the new signs, says city spokesperson Tiffany Chase, is $194,000, not including “the purchase of decals, hardware for mounting, or the cost for installation.”
So basically the cost of the metal sheet is $194,000 The actually cost of the signs will be more in the $500,000 range.
The estimate made me lol too. Then weep. Half a million (or whatever it comes out to) and no improvements.
There are how many municipal transit systems in North America? Why is it rocket science to come up with best practices instead of every transit system out there – or at least Halifax – either trying to maintain status quo or trying to reinvent their own wheel. Surely the sign issue has been bettered if not perfected elsewhere. Still Metro Transit remains firmly rooted in the 1970’s. My favourite bit of corporate Luddite manifestation by this bus system is using hi-def display screens at the ferry terminal to basically display a static, non interactive PDF version of their schedule. The same information could go on a much cheaper low tech poster sign.
Here’s how Winnipeg does it and the signs work at -35c.
Accurate and current info at individual bus stops? I don’t know that Halifax is ready for that kind of wild abandon.
Those Winnipeg signs. I haven’t coveted something that much since Jessica Hansen was the only girl in my 5th grade class to have the limited edition Lisa Frank stickers.
Those signs were being installed in London, UK in 1999 – they were dreamy! They weren’t at every stop, but were easy to read from a distance. You’d know which stop you should head to, or know if you could walk to the next stop for some exercise. These were tied into the GPS on the bus, so if a bus got caught in a traffic tie-up, the times would reflect that.
I travel a bit for work, and no longer rent cars in Calgary and Vancouver because I have learned that I can easy get around on transit, even though I am in those cities only 2 or 3 times a year. Their relatively modern information systems make it easy to navigate even to parts of the cities that one has not visited before
On Friday, I was going to a meeting downtown in Halifax. When I finally figured out how to get there, I realized I was going go have to spend most of my day waiting for buses, so I got in the car and drove.
Interestingly, I spent much of last week writing a proposal for an Ontario town to help them promote alternative transportation. I am already doing that in Calgary.
Halifax can’t even adopt a better transit sign system when it is handed to them. That ain’t bold.
Jospe’s signs and map are sleek and way easier to read. It’s crazy that we’re now 11 years on and approaching a second round of replacements and we still have the clunky old versions in use. Is Metro Transit planning to replace the existing signs now or after the network redesign is complete?
Never mind. I see the heading at the top “this summer.” So some of what we buy will be rendered potentially obsolete later on.
MY feeling exactly!
Halifax Transit seems to be operating under a death-wish mentality where REAL IMPROVEMENTS take a back seat to more-of-the-same, for more cost, for NOTHING!
We should never forget that this is the same organisation which failed to notice– it was leaking MILLIONS of LITRES of fuel and these same rocket scientists are still «LOSING» while WE PAY with poor service and unintelligible signage.
I well remember when I first moved to Halifax as a student (many many years ago), and my trepidation at learning this seemingly complex bus system. It didn’t help that I hailed from an area that didn’t have transit, so I had no prior experience to lean on. Everything was intimidating, from figuring out how much fares were, to the anxiety of not knowing if you figured out the right bus (the route maps were just as confusing back then), and the difficulty of figuring out the best stop to get off. No GoTime. No smart phone. Just a pocket route book and a wish and a prayer. Once, I asked a driver to tell me when I should get off. He forgot and I ended up still on the bus at the end of the route. “Back then”, you had to get off and pay the fare again to go back. I arrived late. And I never asked a driver for assistance again.
I figured out that the #1 took me just about everywhere I needed to go, even if it was the long way around sometimes. My old reliable.
I can only imagine how confusing our system is to a newcomer, or a tourist.
35 years later, I have added to my list of favoured routes, but the #1 is still my go to. Because you never know when you will end up at the end of the line with no idea how to get back.