With smart cards for fare payment taking another step toward funding at council, I can’t help but think about other things to “smarten” up.
For example, fare boxes on buses can’t tell the difference between the toonie-and-three-quarters cash fare and a fistful of nickels. On the other hand, ETS released its schedules to Google, meaning riders no longer have to jump through hoops to find their stops, then ignore several silly recommendations.
The 2007 roll-out of a prototype computer kiosk at Churchill Station was another sign Edmonton was trying. Unfortunately, while its multiple flat-panel displays were flashy, it was basically limited to pulling up route schedules.
Teething pains were evident: If you asked the machine for directions, its patronizing bouncing ball ignored pedways and it shouted inane commentary throughout the station. Paper maps had it beat in convenience and cost, plus they don’t crash.
When riders were surveyed on the device, the top wish was for real-time arrival info. While the machine was eventually upgraded to show the next trains as scheduled, its mezzanine level location and relatively small font still left something to be desired.
The new LRT stations show ETS does know the solution: LED screens visible on the platform, showing times for the next trains. Unfortunately, the older stations still don’t have so much as a printed schedule for the train.
Speaking of printed schedules, the information available at bus stops is seriously lacking. The odd stop boasts paper schedules with the relevant timing point crudely highlighted, but generic stops only list the routes.
My new-to-town roommate once waited for the 6 for more than an hour without knowing the major route didn’t run that section outside peak hours. He’s from Tokyo, but even small systems can manage tailored schedules with maps and lists of departure times for particular stops.
Many cities — and not just big ones — go the extra mile and put GPS on their buses along with real-time arrival screens at busy bus stops. The cellphone-based BusLink system serves its purpose, if you have a phone, but takes forever and is only reading what could be printed at the actual stop.
Some councillors have voiced their appreciation that the user experience benefits with this kind of information being available at stops, but there’s been little action as of late. With any luck though, the smart card program is just the first step to a more intelligent transit system for Edmonton.