Providing the most basic and fundamental information to the rider so they can use an agency’s system is the first job of every transit agency. Of course without this information, riders wouldn’t know where to begin to use the buses or trains.
There are different tools at their disposal to communicate those services and it depends on the situation of what tool they’re going to use. Along the journey every system has the basic information for riders: showing them the routes and the times to access them.
Some of the most important information the rider gets is that which they get just before getting on the vehicle.
Solving the Riders’ Puzzle
CHK America Inc. President Rick Wood explains some tips on breaking information down to get riders through some of the fundamental processes. CHK America creates designs to provide passenger information for agencies’ riders through wayfinding and passenger information design.
“We did this psychological study on riders and there’s this thing called cognitive load; we all experience it,” Wood says. Cognitive load theory proposed that if bombarded by information with complex instructional materials, the working memory is limited and could result in a cognitive overload, resulting in impaired performance.
Simply put as Wood says, “It’s like when you go to an airport, it’s crazy. Decision-making becomes much more complicated. Humans can only handle a certain amount of cognitive load.
“Everybody has different times when the cognitive load will overwhelm them, when their decision-making becomes impaired,” Wood says. “You can’t feel comfortable in the decision you’re making because you’re overwhelmed.”
Bus stops are one of the places where the highest cognitive load occurs. Information can be designed in a way for agencies to reduce cognitive load.
“Our company did a study in London that indicates after eight seconds if someone can’t understand your information, they’ll stop trying,” Wood explains. And that’s when they will go look for an alternative for information, he adds.
“It’s not that they have to understand the entire thing, it means they have to begin to understand it.
“If they begin to understand it within eight seconds they will continue to search for answers and at the end of that period, if they’re still confused they’ll go ask someone.”
If agencies can get them engaged and start communicating information effectively they will continue to search for answers or go ask someone. “But you have to get them engaged within eight seconds,” Wood stresses.
Catching Them at the Stop
From studies and ridership feedback, Wood says the biggest barrier to ridership, especially new customers, occurs at the stop. It is the last hurdle that a potential rider has to overcome to use a system.
“They can do all their planning, thinking they know what they’re going to do but if they get to the stop and they feel anxious, unsure that they’re making a right decision, they won’t get on the bus or train,” Wood affirms.
There are a lot of at-stop information elements to confirm and encourage a rider to take the next step. Agencies need to confirm the planning they’ve done is good, they are at the right place, they know where they can go from that stop and they know how long it’s going to take to get there.
“You want to confirm all the stuff they thought was supposed to happen at the bus stop and then make them confident enough to take that next step, which is get on the bus,” says Wood.
Helping riders overcome the barriers is to help people make the decision they need to make to feel confident by taking the puzzle of the trip and breaking it down into manageable tasks. At any certain point, Wood explains, you have to have subtasks that are solvable. When they solve the subtask, that should lead to the next subtask and when done in a certain order, they’ll have the entire process.
He adds, “I know it sounds esoteric, but that’s how it works.”