Sunday, September 12, 2010

New Transit Site Misses The Bus!

The city is trying to improve the entire transit system – with varying degrees of success. Low-rise buses have been a great improvement. The stop announcements are very helpful. Even Telebus has improved!

Before getting a PC, I relied on the print schedules and Telebus - both with limited success.

The print schedules are helpful, but the city made an error in choosing to print them with blue type on sharp white background - not a user friendly combo for many with low vision.

Telebus is an automated system that has been improved over the years, but you have to know the 5 digit stop number to use it. The voice recognition for the system is a bit iffy – especially if your enunciation is not clear or you hesitate too long between responses. The 5 digit codes are printed in small print at the beginning of the Winnipeg Yellow Pages. In the past, I suggested on more than one occasion, that transit make available a print version of those numbers in a self contained book form that could be tucked in a purse, backpack or pocket with a simple black font such as Arial (minimum 10 point) on an off-white background. it would be far more accessible for people - especially seniors or those who find the Yellow Pages a little too heavy and awkward to use. How many people even use their Yellow Pages anymore? A nominal fee could be charged to offset the cost, but I suspect the cost could be at least partially made up in increased ridership.

Many transit stops have print schedules attached to the sign post – albeit in small print – and some of the stops now have a clock system with real time bus route arrivals scrolling down. There are two main problems with these new real time arrival schedules:
1) It is orange on black type which is hard to read in daylight and
2) The sign is so high up you can’t read it unless you have great vision!

However, Transit has really missed the mark on providing reasonable ease of access for the average rider with this new Beta system on the web. The site is crammed with new bells and whistles to supposedly make using transit easier but it comes across as trying too hard to be all things to all people.

Riders need a simple reliable way to obtain route info without needing a PHD in website navigation and the patience of Buddha to figure out how to get to where they are going.

The new transit site is NOT in the least bit user friendly!! The promotional "Video Help" is not helpful, nor is the written info in the "Help/FAQ". I found both to be vague and overly simplified to be of any use.

I am legally blind. I do not use JAWS or other speech programs as I prefer a larger font to use the internet. So given that, you’d think I’d have had a relatively easy time navigating the site. No such luck!! I spent well over an hour trying to figure out a half dozen routes a few weeks ago. I use at least 15-20 stops at various times of morning and afternoon in any given month. I have been attempting to use this new system for about a month now, but it still takes me at least three or four times longer to find my information now as it did on the old site - even by saving my timetables!

I've never been a fan of Navigo as it always seemed to suggest some rather ridiculous routes to get from A to B. The most obvious connections/transfer points were rarely listed as the first, second or even third option. The suggestions would have easily gotten me lost!

Even the bus drivers don't recommend using Navigo! One of the worst cases I've heard from a driver was someone who was transferring to an 18 on Graham. They were actually headed to Henderson Hwy. but Navigo sent them via an 18, 77 and then on to an 11!! That's a sightseeing trip - not efficient planning. If that person had missed even one connection, their trip could have lasted at least 30-40 minutes longer and left them stranded in an unfamiliar area!

I prefer to do my own planning! Better yet, I’ll ask a bus driver. I sure wouldn’t waste my time calling 311 as they seem to know even less than I do about how transit timetables and routes work!

With the old site, I could select "schedules and maps" then "stop schedules" then day and then select the letter of the alphabet for the street I wanted. That gave me options of which direction I was headed and then listed all the possible stops. From there I pick my stop and routes. Easy! It could all be done with a few mouse clicks.

I don't always use the same stops or times, nor do I always remember the name of a cross street for a stop I use only once or twice a month. Seeing the list of possible stops always reminds me of which one I wanted and I can make note of the stops before mine so that I can be listening more closely to the automatic announcements on the buses.

Stop announcements on the buses have been a great addition, but every bus seems to have the volume at different levels, and depending on noise levels in and/or around the bus, the stops aren't always audible. Drivers don't always remember to call a stop even when you ask them to!

Assuming that you know the name of the street you want and what direction that may be – not an easy feat in this burg given how much streets twist and turn - you still may have trouble spelling some of the names! Seeing an alphabetical list is a lot easier to recognize a name rather than a drop down box that lists dozens of variations of what you are attempting to type.

Then, if you happen to find the right street, heaven forbid that you click on the wrong stop or ever try to go back a page! If you do have to go back the odds are that you will get an error page saying that the page cannot be found! Great, now you have to start all over!! I found the same error page problem when trying to click on any five digit route number in a timetable.

Despite my visual limitations, I am reasonably adept at using a PC and can manoeuvre around most websites fairly easily but this new system is going to be a real challenge for anyone with only moderate PC skills. The confusion and frustration levels of trying to sort it all out, will drive most people away.

As I said earlier, I use at least 15-20 stops at various times of morning and afternoon in any given month. The only way I will ever be able to use this site with ANY amount of ease will be to save every one of the routes that I may use in any given month. Frankly, that is not the least bit efficient or an effective use of technology. I should not have to customize and save EVERY one of those into my timetables!

I know transit is trying to make the system better and there have been improvements, but this new Beta system is not going to work for a lot of people due to limited PC skills or accessibility issues (sight, spelling etc). I have spoken with friends who are sighted, friends who are visually impaired and several passengers over the last few weeks and have yet to find someone who found the site even remotely user friendly.

The new beta system may work better for young tech savvy people, but frankly I would strongly recommend that the old version be kept as a more suitable alternative for the rest of us.

The old system is scheduled to disappear as of September 30, 2010.

If the city doesn’t make some major changes to the new site and make suitable accessibility options for all citizens, they will continue to lose ridership.

I submitted feedback to the website, but have had no response as yet. We tell the city what we need and want in services but they just keep managing to miss the bus, Yet the city continues to wonder why people aren't using buses more! Really makes you wonder!


No comments: