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 (http://www.atacmobile.it). 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 mobytv.it.)
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.