I have a confession to make: despite being philosophically in favor of transit generally, I almost never take the bus. A big part of that is because I live right next to a light rail station, as well as most of the things I need to survive. But I also live near many bus stops and almost never use them. I’m genuinely embarrassed to admit this, but I do so because I’m sure I’m not alone.
This is the first post of several where I’m going to be exploring why I don’t take the bus more often. The easy answer is because I have the choice not to; I own a car and a bike, etc. But I rarely ever drive, and then it’s usually only when transit routes are unavailable — such as on Sundays between Provo and Salt Lake. Moreover, I’m aware that taking the bus would actually be a good thing for me; buses can be more useful in some cases in Salt Lake City and I know that they could get me closer to some destinations
Much has been written about why people with a choice tend to favor rail over buses, but over a few posts I hope to explore reasons why one particular user in Salt Lake City — me — doesn’t get on the bus much even when it makes sense to do so.
So here’s my first answer: route maps.
When I take a train, every station has a easy-to-read map that tells me where each line is headed.
Bus stops, by contrast, almost never have maps. Yes, I can look up a map on UTA’s website, but that’s a hassle to do on the run if you even have mobile internet in the first place (which I didn’t until six months ago and which I’m sure many bus riders still don’t have). And when you try to look it up, it takes several clicks to get this convoluted, very difficult to read PDF map. It’s slow, difficult, and impractical.
I don’t know why this difference between bus stops and train stations exists. Perhaps it’s because bus routes can change more capriciously, or because there are typically far more bus stops than train stations. Or, more cynically, perhaps it’s an intentional prioritizing of more middle class rail over ostensibly lower class buses.
Or maybe it’s something completely different.
But whatever the cause, it’s a problem that would be easy and cheap to fix. How much could it cost to produce a laminated piece of paper that displays a single bus route? If that were impractical, perhaps certain street corners near multiple bus stops could have durable signs displaying rail-like route maps. There are enough buses passing through my neighborhood, for example, that nearly any street corner would work. Color or letter coding, as is done with rail in most places, could also help.
I believe this would make a huge difference, especially in downtown Salt Lake City where the buses are part of the free ride zone. If I knew where they were going, I’d probably go hop on buses all the time.
The lack of maps isn’t an excuse, at least on an individual level. I know I should probably just sit down and figure out the routes. But from an administrative perspective, it just makes sense to make a public service like buses as intuitive and user friendly as possible. More maps would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.