OC Transpo: Humility by Design


I take the bus about once a year, but these experiences leave me with the same feeling every time: How do self-respecting people do this every day??

It seems like a system designed to make you feel cheap, insignificant, and –in my case– an idiot.  Transit fares are expected to be hiked in this year’s budget, which seems like classical conditioning in reverse: Your service sucks, so lets pay you more for it?!

My experience was exacerbated by taking the bus on our first brutally cold day of the winter, and during ‘rush hour’.  I use quotes in this case because other much larger cities –like Toronto– win awards in public transit in places that have real rush hours. After navigating OC Transpo’s confusing website in the warmth of a Starbucks, I could not determine from their confusing route maps which go to my desired destination.  So I picked one (the 85) and, with considerable concentration, determined that it might go where I wanted to go (about 10 blocks East on the same street).

Lets talk about the maps for a moment.  The route maps they put online are the same style as those used on the poles located a the stops, which are vertical in format.  This style removes two important pieces of information for the transit noob:  no relationship between actual cardinal directions (maps usually have North on top), and little to no indication what cross-streets –or even the main road– that the route travels.  They probably are quite easy to read for someone who uses the system all the time, but hopeless for anyone who is using the system infrequently.  This would only be a problem for OC Transpo if they desired new users, which they clearly do not.

They have a web-site, and it is clear they have put a lot of effort into it, but the results are less than stellar.  I was hoping for an iPhone application, but it turns out even with 140,000+ apps now available, there isn’t an app for that.  Instead, I tried the octranspo.mobi site they created for cell phones, and gave up quickly because of its lack of user-friendliness.  I can promise OC Transpo one thing: if they were to create an iPhone app, that can present local stops based on GPS and recommend routes and timetables for your desired destination, they would increase the chances of this user taking a bus 10,000%.

So, having determined a bus # and its schedule, I watched the stop from the warmth of my Starbucks to establish the once-every-10-minutes cadence of bus arrivals was consistent before I ventured out into -20C with gale force winds.  25 minutes later I, and two other regular bus users, finally get on an 85, frozen almost solid.  I mention the other two users because it was clear that they were frustrated, but their body language expressed a resignation to this being ‘business as usual’ for the bus system.  While I was waiting for this bus, I established that the two other routes that used this stop were going to my desired destination.  After 25 minutes in the cold, I was already feeling like an idiot for not spending more time to decipher the routes to determine that I could take ANY bus that used that stop to go where I was going.

Adding to this feeling like I wasn’t someone capable of graduating high school, let alone a degree in Engineering Physics, I finally get on a bus and attempt to deposit my two tickets into the fare receptacle for change.  The bus driver indicates that this isn’t what I am supposed to do and points at the top of the confusing mast used to take fares by various means: bills, change and –somewhere– tickets.  I try to stick the tickets into the slot used for cash, which seems like the right slot, it doesn’t work, then a second slot (I think) on the top.  When that doesn’t work, the driver finally points me to the back of the bus and doesn’t even want to consider actually taking the tickets from my hand.  Free ride?  Feeling embarrassed, and a bit like a leper, I slink to a place where I hope I can stand and stay out of the way; no such place exists on a bus.

After watching one person enter the bus from the rear door (he shared both my free ride, and the appearance of a leper), and watching the driver fiddle with the fare mast that wasn’t working in the adverse weather, I resigned myself to the observation that even the drivers had given up trying to work within the system and had given up due to its futility.

I arrive at my stop, wait for the green light to turn on, and push on the yellow door handles to get it to open…  and do it again harder… and harder… the bus starts to pull away and my fellow passengers –thankfully but also embarrassingly for me– yell at the driver to indicate that someone is trying to get off, but the door isn’t responding (or don’t I know what I am doing?!).  He looks back at me with a look I can’t decipher as frustration at me, frustration with the finicky doors or frustration with his life, and urges me to try harder.  I put my –considerable– weight into it, and with other users pushing on the other door, the door finally opens.

The engineer in my ponders how the door was supposed to work: is it based on force on the door, or force applied over a period of time??  Perhaps if I didn’t push as hard, but pushed longer?  Why the hell should a bus user have to figure this out?!  Clearly the poor drivers and riders aren’t being given adequate equipment to improve the user experience!

If OC Transpo actually wants to increase the number of users –and its revenue without a fare hike that it clearly doesn’t deserve–, the executive team might actually consider riding their own buses to see what the experience is like.  They should see that there are many simple things that they could do to move the user experience from humbling to something the city could take some pride in.

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One Response

  1. […] Best MECHANIC in Ottawa Posted on January 30, 2010 by Adrian Bashford After my OC Transpo rant, I thought it appropriate to counter-balance that with a review of a company I LOVE to do business […]

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