Getting Passenger Communication Right: Intermodal Changes

28 Jul


Imagine you’ve just stepped off your train in a busy railway station. As a station is rarely the end of anyone’s journey you start searching for the next means of transport to continue. You could be looking for a connecting bus, tram or metro service or perhaps a taxi. As stations can be hectic and considerably large buildings, rather than look directly for the service what you really need right now is a signpost indicating where your connecting bus can be found. At Amsterdam Centraal you’ll find these signs at the top of each staircase.

Ok, great. These signs are very clear and tell you that buses, metros, taxis and trams can all be found by turning left, with ferries and high speed train services to your right. Feeling more confident, you march down the stairs and turn left. Good job. Now after another 50m you reach the ticket gates and, with sharp eyes looking for the next indication, you notice this next sign.

Excellent! You even have visual reassurance now because you can see a tram and possibly, because buses and trams generally cover shorter and more urban routes and can be occasionally found grouped together, you aren’t too far from finding your bus service. Encouraged by this development you stride confidentally and out in to the fresh Amsterdam air. Surely only 1 more sign and you’ll be set, ready to complete your journey! And here it is, right above the tram stop which faces the entrance and exit to the station.

Unfortunately for the many people to be found wandering aimlessly around the entrances to stations up and down Europe and especially to those outside Amsterdam Centraal, this final signpost epitomises the challenge and the potential failure of communicating to passengers. But why?

When Right is Wrong

In one of my first posts I explained my own laws on how passenger information should be conveyed, if you haven’t seen it The Three C’s can be found here.

Now regarding the information contained here we find a long list of factually correct but yet inefficiently displayed bus services. Whilst it undoubtedly would be a bingo callers dream, reading the entire sign at length would have you none the wiser if you were looking for a bus to the popular tourist town of Volendam.

Implied by the sign’s design is the faltering logic that you know what service you want and where that service goes. Following that logic however reaches the obvious conclusion that if you do know these things you’ve caught the bus before and know where to get it, so therefore no longer need to reference this information.

The result of this deficiency in immediate information is that large groups of travellers congregate outside the station looking forlorn and helpless, which then in turn becomes frustration. The middle section of the sign points you to an information bureau which is located behind the tram stops. The office itself is frequently busy and I have had to wait for over 20 minutes to get served on numerous occasions, a result no doubt due to the lack of information and the amount of befuddled travellers.

What this sign needs is a means of cross-referencing the bus service routes and numbers. But such information is not displayed prominently and when it is it can still be a task to decipher. Twenty metres away on the right hand side, mounted on a temporary wooden fence protecting the area of the station being renovated, is this information display.

In truth it’s hardly noticeable, parked as it is behind bikes (as you can see!). Without any accompanying large scale map or diagram you remain at a loss as to the general direction of any of the services and have to go hunting around (due to the lack of an A-Z index) for your destination. Even so large suburbs of Amsterdam, surrounding towns and industrial areas are completely missing despite receiving regular services. Not clear and not very revealing. To make matters worse, if you study this board closely you’ll realise that if you did want a Volendam bus, right at the very start when you got off your train, you should have actually have turned right at the bottom of the stairs and not followed the sign as Arriva services have been moved to the other side of the station.

Solutions and Conclusions

People might not always look in a hurry but that doesn’t mean they want to spend valuable minutes getting frustrated at not being able to find (and therefore miss!) their connecting service. Connecting information needs to be consistent and efficiently displayed. Bus numbers themselves are really secondary pieces of information, something to be referenced only towards the end of the journey planning process, displaying long lists of numbers in the way it has been here is little short of meaningless to travellers. The primary pieces of information are route and destination. It is therefore this information that should be prominently displayed, thus;




Upfront and clear information such as this quickly gets the foot fall moving. It doesn’t have to be specific this far from the target bus stop groups but it does need to be correct, informative and efficient so it can easily be interpreted. Large scale maps acting in a supporting role are always a good idea to give people a spatial indication of where they will be heading, a confirmation if you like that gives confidence in their direction.

In comparison I remember a journey 2 years ago to Paris. In one of the metro stations was a very clever interactive map. You simply located your station in the A-Z and pressed a corresponding button. Then on the map your route to your destination became illuminated with each required change of service given extra highlighting. An efficient and simplistic solution which transport planners the world over will do well to bear in mind when planning intermodal transport hubs and the communication of connecting service information.

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