ATAC’s new in-bus displays: A step forward, but more is needed

Rome’s public transportation system, known as ATAC (Azienda Tranvie ed Autobus del Comune di Roma), continues to improve in the 20+ years since my first visit to this wonderful city. For example, some of the bus stops now have signs indicating when the next bus is expected to arrive (see the article in L’Occhio – in Italian). You can get info on your mobile phone about the routes and times, including when the next bus is expected ( Some of the buses even have displays inside them that show information about the route.

Unfortunately, it seems that no one thought much about what information ATAC passengers would need and how they would use it.

The buses have two displays. One is at the front, with the line number and final destination scrolling across it (see image at right). About six inches high, this sign spans the aisle and is visible and legible from everywhere in the bus.

Problem is, it tells passengers something they already know. Once you get on the bus, you know which one it is and which direction it’s headed. Instead, what you need to know when you’re on the bus is how soon you will reach your stop.

But wait — there’s good news. These buses do list the next few stops. This information appears on a monitor in the middle of the bus. Unfortunately, there’s also bad news — the monitor’s screen is occupied mostly with advertising, which makes the names of the stops illegible from any reasonable distance. (See photo below, from

ATAC's display of the next few stops on Rome's metrebuses.

I suppose the advertising pays for the monitor and the information display — and in this sense it’s valuable — but it shouldn’t make the actual information hard to read. The obvious solution would be to replace the line/destination on the large dot-matrix display at the front with the name of the next stop. I’ve seen other bus systems do this, and it works very well.

I commend ATAC for their efforts to improve customer service by using IT to provide more information, and I’m not necessarily suggesting that they get rid of the mid-bus monitors,. They do, however, need to make the information legible to the majority of passengers.

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  1. Posted 6 June 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    As first-time riders on ATAC last week we did notice this system. Indeed, one of my objections to taking the bus in any city I don’t know is the unpredictability of where it will stop and how to make the disembark decision in real-time. We took the tram in Rome as well and although they kind of hide the route maps in the boarding area and on the train and don’t announce the upcoming stops with a display (or with a visible sign at the stop), it’s still less stressful than the bus, somehow. In taking the bus we noticed the stops show the route with all the stops listed and with a red box around the current stop. If you sit in the right spot, you can figure out where you are by getting a quick view of the current stop. We noticed the TV display at the same time and I thought that it was supposed to be providing a similar function, but because of all the advertising and difficulty in mapping what was on the screen to what we saw on the stops, I decided it was serving an entirely different function. It was only when taking the bus BACK that I realized that this monitor was showing the upcoming stops. We did a little research before boarding and counted the number of stops we would be taking and learned some of their names, so we were able to verify what this screen was telling us….there was a lot of context for the bus rider to be able to make sense of this info and being almost 100% naive, we lacked most of that context.

    Similarly, on the metropolitan regional train from FCO, the display that should show next stop actually showed current stop, and only updated before departing that current stop, so it was essentially useless. We were sort of on edge as we took the train to Trastevere, and wouldn’t you know it, as the train approached Trastevere, not only did everyone stand up, but the display started working to indicate what was coming up instead of what was behind. Oh, except for the train car behind us, which was showing some completely other info about stops, neither the last nor the next. Just something else!

  2. Posted 6 June 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Steve, I submit that finding one’s way around a city one doesn’t know is made more difficult when one doesn’t know the language either. Sounds as though you developed some great strategies and managed pretty well.

  3. Posted 9 October 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Yesterday I was on a train (in London) when an Italian lady sitting the other side of the aisle from me stood up & asked me where the train was going. At each end of the carriage is a scrolling sign showing the destination and all upcoming stations. It also tells you how many carriages the train consists of…

    Back to the chase: She had got on the wrong train & got off at the next station to go back to a point where she could pick up the correct route. It is amazing how frequently people do this. I’ve seen it on buses many times, not so often on trains. To be fair, it’s mainly – but not exclusively – foreign visitors who do this.

    My point, of course, is that the large sign should continue to show the route number & final destination (the latter as even I’ve managed to get on the right route but going in the wrong direction :{ ) but it should scroll to also show the upcoming stop or stops. It should change to the next stop as soon as the vehicle starts moving away from the current one.

    Systems that show, at the stop, what’s expected and when are useful but the information always need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I have seen a display show “80 – Due now” displayed for ages ‘cos the bus had broken down just round the corner from where I was waiting, after it had passed the last position reporting sensor. The driver of the next 80 along told me he’d also been held up as the broken bus was causing a tail-back :{

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