Last Saturday I brought my car over to a garage at Buckeye and Stoughton Road to have some brake work done. The guy behind the counter informed me that, since I hadn't called ahead and made a reservation, he thought that the earliest they'd be able to look at my car was around noon. I'd planned on them being able to get to it a bit sooner (I was there when they opened at 7:30) but decided that sitting around there for 4+ hours until they could look at the car and then another couple hours while they worked on it was not my cup of tea. I had work around the house to do so I decided to head home. While not exactly a nice day out and rain ever threatening, I started to hoof it and ended up walking to the East Transfer Point. Not being thoroughly familiar with the streets over there, I followed bus signs. And so I walked down Buckeye to Davies and then to Dempsey. Walking the bike path behind Woodman's, I ended up at Milwaukee Street across from the ETP.
While I was perambulating, it occurred to me just how unhelpful Madison Metro signs can be. Here's (an admittedly very full) Madison Metro bus stop sign.
The signs I encountered along the way on my walk were nowhere near as full. Buckeye Road has signs that just have "16" on them while Davies Street and Dempsey Road are served by one route alone – 38. Madison Metro signs simply have numbers on them and nothing else. Now contrast that with the information you can get on a corresponding sign in Chicago.
Madison Metro signs require that you either have a copy of the Ride Guide at your disposal or Internet access to check it out online. (Unless, of course, you are at a bus shelter that has maps.) A sign with a number or numbers on it isn't very helpful for navigating public transportation. Let's say you're on a street and in need of a bus. You see a sign that says merely gives a route number. Where does the bus go? Does that route operate on weekends or weekdays or both? Does it operate only during rush hour?
Madison and Chicago are laid out very differently (grid pattern, having to go around lakes) so buses in Madison have more circuitous routes than those in Chicago, most of which go in a straight line. It's no doubt difficult to avoid signs such as the one above with all those numbers here but even a small amount of info could be handy because, that sign is blatantly unfriendly and confusing. Can there be any wonder why many people avoid Metro? They walk up to a bus stop and see a sign with numbers and have no idea what bus goes where and when. Many new riders, visitors, and even riders looking for a bus in a part of town where they've never ridden before will be confused and turned off by a near meaningless sign. Public transportation should be welcoming and accommodating not cold and perplexing.
When I arrived at the East Transfer Point I checked out the system map to find out when my bus would be leaving and I was left with a short wait. Looking around I noticed that the place was underutilized. The ETP is a terminus or stop for over a dozen Metro routes. Make the place a bit more friendly by posting some break-out maps instead of just leaving everyone to parse through those with every route in the whole city on it. Put up a map showing a single route with a major destination. Route 30, for instance, goes to East Towne Mall. Advertise just how one can get there. And how would someone get to the airport from the ETP? To Camp Randall? To the Dean Clinic on Stoughton Road? To a Badger Bus stop? Metro should be advertising itself more. You've got riders standing around waiting for a bus so work on them. Show people who commute during the week how easy it is to get to that Badger game or a shopping destination on the weekend instead of driving.
Madison is not a very large city yet its public transportation system has a steep learning curve considering its size.