Maps Matter

Before the weekend, Halifax Transit’s acting director Dave Reage made some unfortunate remarks about transit maps to the Coast‘s Jacob Boon:

“Even now, I use Google Transit most often if I want to figure out where I’m going,” says Dave Reage. The acting director of Halifax Transit calls paper maps somewhat of a dinosaur. “The digital tools are far more powerful than a map would ever be.”

[. . .]

“I would wager too, though, that probably most of your regular riders don’t ever use a map because they know where they’re going,” says Reage.

The idea seems to be that maps don’t matter, since most people can just use Google Transit and most people who ride the bus already know where they’re going.

It’s hard to tell if that’s exactly what Raage meant. But whether he meant it or not it’s an idea that deserves some pushback. We think great transit should be for everyone, not just people with expensive data plans and broadband at home.

But also, suppose it’s true that regular riders don’t use maps because they know where they’re going. What about new riders? Don’t we want more people taking transit? And even for regular riders, don’t we want to make it easier for them to take new trips they’re not already familiar with? Maps — good, clear, simple maps — are essential for making it easier for people to take the bus for the first time.

IMTB’s Sean Gillis had this response to Reage’s comments:

The fact the new transit map is still mostly illegible speaks to two major problems with how we look at transit:

1) Many think it should take nearly everyone to Downtown Halifax without a transfer.

2) We still haven’t decided which routes are really priorities. Some routes – 1, 10, 7, etc. – should jump out on the map because they offer more service than other routes. Until we sort out our core routes, this will be a problem way beyond the transit map.

The same mediocre effort is shown in many transit decisions, big and small: the new bus stop signs don’t tell you what direction the bus goes in; no schedule information or route maps at 99% of shelters; a lack of shelters and concrete pads; picking a poor location for the Lacewood Terminal; the generally brutal experience of transferring at Mumford (good luck with that signage).

We can’t have a Metro system like a big city, but go to Montreal and see how carefully they use signage, maps and colour in their stations to guide riders to the right trains, especially when transferring. On the trains route maps are everywhere, showing connections to the commuter rail system. In the Metro stations and at bus terminals there are maps everywhere, helping you find your platform and explain where buses go. It is a very large system, but incredibly easy to navigate for the casual rider. We have much to learn from other cities in their approach to branding and wayfinding.




One response to “Maps Matter”

  1. Gary MacLeod says:

    There is hardly a transit system anywhere in North America that makes a profit. Transit system exists for the sole purpose of moving people from one place to another and helps to keep the economy moving. Transit systems are not just for city core routes that benefit the middle class. Most transit system exists because they are funded by government so that anyone regardless of financial status can use them. Not everyone can afford a car and many people that live on the Sambro route rely on the transit service to get to work. Although, the CBC report states that it cost $64 a person for 25 people a day to use the Sambro transit 402, according to Metro Transits own figures, the area rate that is collected for transit says otherwise and more than pays for the cost of having a bus service this area. People could ride this bus for free and Metro Transit would still be making money. Just because the 402 is on the chopping block doesn’t mean the area rate collected in District 13 for the Sambro Transit route will be applied to other routes servicing the core route of the city. Overall, at the best of times, only about 12% of HRM’s population regularly use the transit system. Shortly after the last transit major labour strike that figure fell to 7%, according to another transit study and according to the latest CBC report fell another 2%. This tells me that there are many more routes beside Transit Route 402 that is underutilize and not as self sufficient as the 402 in the way of paying for itself that could be axed. My taxes are not and never will be used to pay for commuters in other ares for bus shelters, and express routes for their luxury of public transit while the Sambro route 402 that doesn’t even have bus shelters, only has ten hourly runs per day and does not have service on the weekends is axed. Perhaps if they improved the 402 transit service to the level as other parts of the city ridership would greatly improve.

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