This article is probably not really a test of usability testing since no such thing is really done by Metro Transit of the Minneapolis - St. Paul metro area. Apparently I am the only one that has thought about systematic usability testing transit systems in the internet world, see Yahoo and Google for "transit usability" or "transportation usability." Even though the only "tests" I have done have been thought exercises and hueristic assessments of Metro Transit, my local transit system, no one else seems to have any idea of testing the billions of dollars worth of transit infrastructure to see if it works. Did any of this "testing" have an effect? Possibly, but I think probably not.
Metro Transit seems to take recommendations from two usability articles I published several months ago on vehicle wrap advertising and rider comfort. I recommended testing the 50 percent window wrap in Bus Wrap Advertising Affects Usability, instead of entombing the riders in a shroud. In my article I had noted that only a moron would claim that covering the bus windows with wrap did not impair usability. Metro Transit has wrapped buses for about 6 or so years, suddenly they changed the policy.
The other article Transit Comfort and Usability, recommended testing retrofitting padding to the steel and minimum padded seats; Metro Transit is now re-upholstering 180 buses to put an inch of padding on steel seats to dampen the bone jarring ride. But compare that 1 inch to the 3 inch cushion on a bus that has cushions as a part of the bus fixtures in the first place; in my article I noted that retrofitting would be much less comfortable and that usability should be included early in the process and is harder to fix after the fact. Metro Transit has had the no pad seats for at least 6 years, now they announce a change. See the Metro Transit news quotes at the bottom of this article for details of the usability fixes that have been announced.
My first thought was that, hmm..., maybe I had an effect, I am on the first page of google for many transit keyword phrases, even some with "Metro Transit" in them, maybe someone has read something and started usability testing. However, second thoughts ring truer.
I noticed that Albany, NY as reported by the Albany Times Union has already restricted bus wrap advertising, so now I think there is a national rethink of ad revenue and wrap. I know that government bureaucracy has a lemming like herd mentality and the probability of a government "solution" that originates with a local agency is very low. Usually policy is copied from others, no matter how good or inappropriate for the local environment. Like smoking restrictions, no matter how much sense it makes for worker health or public health our local governments wait until others do it before taking action. Local governments are still in the fad of "privatizing" services without oversite no matter how stupid that sounds. Could Metro Transit be following a national trend against full wrap? Very probable.
Was the effect of a 50% window bus wrap advertisement an enhancement to transit usability? I have seen several of the new wraps, and yes, I am very happy to report that the improvement from the "hooded Gitmo effect" is noticeable, the remaining window wrapping is just an annoying hindrance that is at the edge of tolerability.
The announcement about adding padding to steel seats I would call a coincidence, every few dozen years they have to refurbish or replace something, this decade it is the seats, I have seen no evidence Metro Transit has any idea about usability testing or any systemic thought of rider comfort, usability or using usability testing as an engineering tool to improve ridership and safety. After actually riding on a couple of the "re-upholstered" buses, I am reporting that the ride comfort is almost indistinguishable from the old "no pad seat" buses. In my articles I did recommend testing the solutions to comfort problems before implementing them, that maybe would have saved the money for 180 buses of re-upholstered seats and instead tried something else to enhance usability, like better grade shock absorbers or getting better quality buses.
So, the only conclusion to make is that the effect of my usability testing articles on the transit system is next to nil. The intended effect is to have usability testing as an engineering tool used by Metro Transit itself to make improvements that will make transit tolerable instead of the last resort of society's losers and a transport to be avoided at any cost. As far as I can see this is not happening, at best Metro Transit is responding to criticism in a reasonable manner by oiling a squeaky wheel, at worst, it is just rolling along, oblivious and following the transit herd. The two transit usability improvements were apparently not tested, one works, the other seems a waste of effort and resources.
However, I could be wrong and Metro Transit is launching usability testing in an effort to increase ridership. If this is the case, I have put a "Google Checkout" button on a website at Metro Transit Pay Me. Metro Transit, I am waiting for payment of a "consulting fee" for the transit usability testing concept, pick any amount on the button. Most credit cards accepted. Of course, this test may fail too.
From: Fewer ads mean better visibility
Advertising on buses or trains can make a big impact and help companies get their messages out. Sales of ads are important for Metro Transit, too; the revenue from advertising helps pay for additional transit service.
However, not everyone liked buses or trains that were completely wrapped in advertising; some raised concerns about limited visibility from inside the vehicle.
A new advertising policy that started in January addresses that concern. Companies buying ads that cover an entire vehicle now may cover no more than 50 percent of the total window surface on each side of the vehicle. The new policy also requires that the window nearest the customer-boarding door on buses be clear of advertising.
Customers may see some vehicles completely wrapped in advertising for a while. Companies that had agreements for full wraps before the new policy went into effect will finish out the terms of their contracts.
And From: Hop on and sink in! Look for new, cushier seats
After a long day at work, commuters can appreciate the comfort of a padded seat on Metro Transit's buses.
By the end of summer, customers will experience better backside comfort on more than 180 buses that until now had seats with thin padding or no padding at all.
When the original seats were purchased the focus was on protecting them against vandalism the seats were functional but not very well cushioned. Thanks to advances in upholstery, Metro Transit now can install seats that are just as durable without sacrificing comfort.
The buses will have their seats replaced with reupholstered ones featuring a 1-inch cushion on the seat and a 5/8-inch cushion on the seat back. Some buses have already had seats replaced.
Hop on and enjoy the more comfortable seats!