Getting off the Bus

Once you’re on the bus, you’ll eventually need to let the driver know that you want to get off. You press the button or pull the chord for the next stop. Depending on the bus and the provider, you’ll encounter a few different ways that indicate the stop request was successful. Usually there is an audible ding or spoken message. Additionally, there is a visual message in the form of an illuminated sign or text on a marquee.

Depending on which method a transit vehicle uses for this indication, you might not be able to easily know if the stop request was successful. This could be due to the methods the vehicle uses, or it could be that the stop request mechanism is broken. Further, most vehicles provide the audible indication only the first time a stop is requested. If you don’t hear it, you might not know a stop has been requested. This is very possible on a noisy bus or if you have some visual impairment and cannot see the visual stop indicator. Recently, I’ve encountered more transit vehicles that use a marquee to provide stop request information. This information is interspersed with other messaging like the time and service information, relegating a primary rider message to the same status as ancillary messages. The time and stop request indications are not equal to riders. It can increase uncertainty of a successful stop request. So what can we do — how do we create a signaling system that is clear to riders?

I think two things would make it clearer to riders that a stop and been successfully requested:

  1. an audible noise each time someone presses the button or pulls the chord to signal a stop
  2. a dedicated sign that illuminates when a stop has been successfully requested. Let’s looks at each one in turn

An audible sound each time you request a stop has a few benefits. It allows you to hear the signal when you make the request. If another rider made the request, it’s possible you didn’t hear it because it was not loud enough or the bus was noisier than the signal sound. Knowing there will be a sound when you request a stop will let you know if the signal mechanism you’re using is operational. (Sometimes the chords don’t work.) The first time the stop is requested, the stop sound could be accompanied by a voice message indicated a stop has been requested. The audible sound each time a stop is requested would also help vision-impaired riders.

Couple with the audible sound, there should be a dedicated sign that illuminates when a stop is requested. A dedicated sign is a clear indicator to riders that a stop has been requested. It doesn’t have to compete with other messaging like the time or service messages that you see on marquees. Additionally, deaf and hard-of-hearing riders benefit from knowing that the sign indicates a stop request.

Both indication methods also help illiterate riders and riders who don’t speak the local language. If these riders miss the audible noise, they can look to the sign to know that a stop has been requested. If the non-audible message is text on a marquee, interspersed with other text, it can be difficult, if not impossible, for these riders to know that a stop has been requested. This makes riding transit more challenging for these riders.

I’d love to see transit vehicles use these two methods to indicate a requested stop. It’ll make transit easier in various riding conditions and easier to understand for riders of various abilities.

Update: VTA buses use marquees to indicate stops and other messages. I was recently on one where the marquee was either off or broken. Riders only got an audio indication that a stop had been requested. If you were a deaf or hard-of-hearing rider, you would have no way to know that a stop was requested successfully. Things like this make riding transit harder for people.