Why every city bus route planner is a stupid moron

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Welcome, my friends and colleagues. Welcome to my nightmare of poorly designed public transportation systems.

Before we begin, let me be the first to clarify that I have no problem with well-designed public transportation. I love well-designed public transportation. Every time I’m in a new city, particularly those with a state-of-the-art subway system (or even the clunky, aging, 1950s-era steampunk-like contraptions rattling around Moscow), I rejoice in my ability to whisk myself away in a matter of minutes from one end of a multimillion-person megalopolis to the other. All those people who complain about how we don’t have teleportation devices like in Star Trek should be overjoyed at how we’re pretty much halfway there.

Sadly, it’s as completely different story when it comes to buses. And it’s not so much that buses are stupid. It’s the humans designing those bus systems are stupid. Every single one of them. ALL OVER THE WORLD.

Stupid design flaw #1: NO F#@%ING MAPS!!!

Take a look at the Montreal Metro map, which is present at every single station in the city and in multiple locations at each of those stations.

Montreal Metro Route and City Map
It’s…it’s just so beautiful.

Not only is there a handy map of the entire city, but there’s also a handy map of just the subway system, so you can easily determine exactly where you are, and where you need to go, with easily-navigable and color coded routes which take about as much time to figure out as 4th grade math problem. It’s great. Literally every subway system encounter that I’ve ever had has taken about 30 seconds to figure out exactly where I’m going, and off I go.

Now let’s take a look at the stupid bullshit that passes for a bus system route map in the same city:

Montreal Bus Schedule

If you were able to figure this out, good for you! But you’re also a total liar.

At practically every bus stop in the world that I’ve ever seen, the info presented shows a very brief, often-inaccurate schedule of the buses that pass through there, with numbered routes alongside estimated arrival times and NO F*&%$ING MAP ANYWHERE IN SIGHT. How the hell do you figure out where you’re going if you have no idea where you are or which route you’re supposed to take!??!!

If it weren’t for Google Maps and its public transit directions, navigating a new city would be an appalling travesty. And when your battery dies or your mobile coverage goes out, you go right back to the Stone Age.

Take a look at this one:

Garbage bus route map

The only thing they give you besides the bus route numbers is literally garbage.

“Just ask someone which number you need!”

Ah yes, the ol’ “just ask a local” trick which only works if you speak the same language and he/she might give you wrong directions anyway. Also, have you ever been to a bus stop in the middle of the night and have no idea what the hell is going on and there’s no one around to ask? Or what if you do know the route number you need, but you don’t know where the bus stop is?!? That’s a good time for a MAP OF THE DAMN BUS ROUTES!!!

And don’t tell me it’s about money, because it’s literally just a sheet of paper that could be stapled nearby. STAPLE DAMN YOU. STAPLE!!!

Stupid design flaw #2: Inexcusable signage inadequacy

Let’s play a little game called Find the Bus Stop.

You’ve got 30 seconds to find it or you’ll miss your flight and be stranded here for days and miss your own wedding AAAAAHHHHHH!!!

Montreal Streets
Tick tock tick tock.

Trick question! There was none. Good try, though!

Now let’s take a look at how easy it is to find a metro stop:

Metro Station Sign
Every sign is like your own personal concierge.

Not so tricky, is it?

Subway signs are ALWAYS bigger, not only so you know where to get on, but also where to get off, since they have massive signs with gigantic letters telling you which station you’re at, which is incredibly goddamn useful and bus routes never bother doing that either, because why?!!?

The only explanation I can think of is that subway designers are intelligent and considerate people who want their system to be widely used and easily accessible, whereas bus system designers are terrible humans whose mothers don’t love them.

Stupid design flaw #3: Ticket purchase sequencing flaw

This is a more subtle problem, but it is the one most likely to lead to the greatest degree of awkwardness and inadvisable police encounters.

Let’s take a look at how it’s handled with a subway system, because subway systems are always better and everything else is stupid:

Metro ticket machine
Pay close attention. Pay attention. PAY…attention.

Take a look at the shorts-clad gentleman on the left, who is paying for his ticket before reaching the turnstiles. This is a wonderful design feature, because paying after passing through the turnstiles would just be a ridiculous disaster. This ensures that no one accidentally gets on the subway without having paid ahead of time. If you suddenly realize you have no cash to pay for a ticket, it will happen before any inadvertent illegality.

Now let’s consider the embarrassing cesspool of stupidity that is the bus system’s method of dealing with the same problem, which occurs in a variety of somewhat-stupid to incredibly-stupid variations:

  1. You pay as you get on the bus (decent)
  2. You pay as you get off the bus (stupid)
  3. You buy a ticket at a nearby kiosk (decent)
  4. You bang your head against the wall because the world is a terrible place and it’s all just pointless anyway (soothing, but futile)

Options 1 and 3 aren’t viscerally objectionable, but neither is without its problems; with Option 1, you often have to pay with exact change, because the machines usually don’t give change back. If all you’ve got is a $20 bill and don’t have time to change it for smaller bills, you might as well just take a taxi.

Option 3 is great for getting change and taking your time, but if you don’t know where the kiosk is, you’re just going to be left wandering the streets aimlessly until you find it.

Which is why they should just combine the goddamn 1st and 3rd options together and let you do either one goddammit. That way you could jump onto the bus immediately if you happen to have change, or buy your ticket at a leisurely pace from a nearby supermarket if you don’t. It’s still not perfect, but it’s certainly better than either option alone, and won’t result in you getting on a bus without a ticket and being forced to pay a fine. But what they should really do is have the goddamn ticket machine right next to the bus stop like with all the goddamn subway stations. ARGH!!!

(And yes, I know there are a billion bus stops all over the place, and installing a ticket machine near each one would be financially problematic, so they could just let you buy tickets at any supermarket or kiosk, and install machines only at the busiest bus stops to speed things up for everyone. Yes, kids. Intelligence is sexy!)

By the way, this problem can potentially present a new challenge every few days; if you’re a tourist in a new country, you have no idea which system the country is using unless you ask someone ahead of time, or otherwise figure it out somehow. Once you do, you might already be headed off to the next city, which might have a completely different system…and have you ever gone from a city where you’re supposed to pay after you get on the bus and then you go to another city in the same country where you’re supposed to pay before you get on the bus, but you’ve already gotten onto the bus and the police officer is asking you what the hell you think you’re doing because nobody tells you these things?!?! Because I sure have. STOP MAKING CITIES WITHIN THE SAME COUNTRY OPERATE UNDER A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SYSTEM, YOU TERRIBLE HUMANS.

Other stupid crap

I’m too upset right now to go on about this too much longer, so we’re moving to the lightning round.

  1. Subways tell you which direction you’re going, whereas buses only sometimes do. THIS COULD BE SOLVED WITH THE AFOREMENTIONED IMPROVEMENTS IN SIGN TECHNOLOGY.
  2. If you miss your stop or go the wrong way (see previous problem), you can just jump right back on the opposite-direction subway train and get there for no extra charge. With buses, you might have to pay again, ALL BECAUSE OF A STUPID PROBLEM THAT COULD BE FIXED WITH SIGNS.
  3. With a subway system, you always know exactly where you are and how many stops you have left to go, because of the aforementioned handy little map that shows you exactly how many stops there are until your destination, and all you have to do is count the stops until you get there, or, even better, LOOK AT THE GODDAMN SIGNS WRITTEN IN GIANT LETTERS WHICH ARE ALWAYS THERE ON SUBWAYS BUT NEVER FOR BUSES AND GODDAMMIT I HATE THEM.

Argh. No wonder ride-sharing apps are so hot right now.

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