Albany Bus Interchange Gets the Human Experience Once Over – Lessons to Be Learned for existing Infrastructure

Puhinui demonstrates with new infrastructure, Albany with existing infrastructure….

Last Friday I joined my colleague Rob Mayo again in doing another Human Experience “once-over” at one of Auckland’s transit interchanges. The purpose of these Human Experience once-overs is to assess said Human Experience (customer and user experience or CX/UX) and produce a report either for domestic/international clients or general consumption. From there the lessons learnt can be applied to transit interchanges needing to bring their Human Experience up to scratch.

Albany builds on the trip to the newly minted Puhinui Interchange where we gave that interchange its Human Experience once over. You can see that post here: The Human Experience of Puhinui (Interchange). This week it was Albany Interchange’s turn for the Human Experience once over.

Albany – a product of a former system

Albany Interchange is a bus interchange (Puhinui, Otahuhu and Manukau are rail/bus interchanges) located to the north of the Albany Metropolitan Centre in north Auckland. It was built as part of the Northern Busway in the 2000’s and became operational before the Auckland Super City went live in 2010. This means unlike Otahuhu, Puhinui and Manukau – all which are built under the unified Super City, Albany was built in a legacy system of fragmented governance and systems. None-the-less the Interchange despite being extremely busy with buses is functional with any retrofits not as major as say what Britomart is going through for the City Rail Link.

My trip was from Takaanini on the Southern Line with a change over at the City Centre to the Northern Expressway 1 bus that uses the Northern Busway to get to Albany. It was my first time on the NEX1 and the Northern Busway (but not with double deckers) and I forgot how rough the trips were with the amount of jerking around and rough road surfaces compared to rail. But I am not here to talk about that Human Experience as that is another post in of itself! The weather was also wet as well making the trip even more realistic given commuters can not run away from the weather – well not as fast as a Spatial Planner doing a site visit.

Albany’s Wayfinding non existent – product of obsolete thinking and again systems

Recapping: Puhinui had a case of five issues needing to be addressed with its wayfinding in order to improve its Human Experience. They were:

  1. Inconsistent messaging
  2. Missing messaging
  3. Inconsistent iconography
  4. Missing iconography
  5. Incorrect message format

Albany has a case of missing messaging full stop let alone anything else and I think I know why: Albany was built in an era where it was all about the 9-5 City Centre commute, Monday to Friday with weekend travel all done by the car. Back then Albany Metropolitan Centre was being designed and built as an auto-centric rabbit warren making any feeder buses or active modes convoluted. Fast forward 13 years and not much has changed despite the changing urban geography in Auckland – and this is where the problem is with Albany. It is still designed around the obsolete commuter based system clung onto those in Auckland Transport who should know better.

Here are the pictures of Albany Interchange:

The Human Experience: This time it would be me who got lost, lost for the loos, the exit, and for connecting or returned services. This consequence is most likely again a product of the obsolete pro-commuter focus where “regulars” would be use to the interchanges at the expense of visitors like me coming in from afar (South Auckland) to check the place out.

Human Experience wise especially for an interchange serving a Metropolitan Centre (and one of Auckland’s three Nodes under the Auckland Plan) the above is a massive no-no and should not be repeated anywhere else on the network. This is especially where interchanges are either multi-modal or serve as an interchange to express services like the NEX or rail lines and connecting local services. Our transit system is meant to encourage cross town trips, off-peak and weekend trips, and allow those not familiar with the area transition through the transit system with relative ease. This will be very important for the North Western Bus Improvements, Eastern Busway, and Airport to Botany Rapid Transit Stages 1.5 and Stage 2 (as well as any interchange overseas).

The good news is that you are not needed to reinvent the wheel each time but rather use a standardised system of signs, beacons and ground wayfinding to help passengers both veteran and new enjoy a positive experience thus continue to use the transit system.

Simple steps to improve the Human Experience at a Transit Station

Okay toilets and coffee kiosks are always a good start for any interchange, a customer service booth would not go a miss either. But in absence or confirmation of those products your passengers still need to transition through the interchange and maybe nearby environs either to get to their destination or connect to another service.

Thus these are the minimums for any interchange:

  1. Beacons at all station entrances. Manukau has this, Albany was missing one right where it mattered most – the intersection at the entrance of the station and main road to the mall
  2. Ground treatment showing routes and destinations. Also showing where the lift or mobility access points are location is a must as well
  3. If you are running major or express services like the NEX1 or Airport Link then advertise the heck out of it. Putting those routes on signs no bigger than an A4 sheet of paper helps no one (see visual comparison below)
  4. Make sure your maps are orientated to the way the person is facing otherwise this leads to visual confusion
  5. If going dual language then the Indigenous language goes on top with the common language underneath. All icons sit on the right hand side
  6. Keep icons, colours and symbols the same! NZTA gets this with the motorways so why is Auckland Transport struggling with transit
  7. If you have thoroughfare walkers or cyclists using the interchange delineate their path so they do not clash with waiting passengers
  8. Finally: ALWAYS SHOW WHERE THE EXIT IS and where your major destinations are within 10 minutes of said exit. Albany was missing this and even Manukau could certainly do a bit better on the intersections of Davis Avenue/Putney Way, and Putney and Osterley Ways

Note how the Airport Link (Manukau also signposted next door) is illustrated but the NEX1 and 2 are not (apart from that very small sign)? If your station has a major service it should be clearly illustrated to help passengers know where the waiting point is

Where do I need to go to connect to my connecting service or get to my destination?

Which way do I go?

OH, there are the loos!

Okay I am coming from Albany Mall and can not lock onto the bus interchange as no beacon to use as a fixing point. Puhinui and Manukau have these beacons however, Manukau is not all squeaky clean with a lack of wayfinding at the intersection pointing to major destinations (stations, mall, Ronwood Avenue, police station, courts and even Rainbows End)

Absolutely wonderful weather makes the site visits more realistic

In the end there is work to be done across the board to bring our transit system up to speed in terms of Human Experience. The common issue of missing or inconsistent messaging means passengers either get lost finding amenities or wonder where their connecting service is. Combine it with Auckland’s often dodgy weather and we see the negative consequences of low transit patronage.

Ridding us of the 9-5 City Centre, peak only mantra needs to disappear as well if we ever want people to be attracted to our transit system as well. That said the good news is retrofitting to improve the Human Experience across the network is affordable and straight forward providing international best practice is followed.

Simply put? Lots to do!

One thought on “Albany Bus Interchange Gets the Human Experience Once Over – Lessons to Be Learned for existing Infrastructure

  1. Totally agreed the current human UX is lacking. Only “regulars” know how to use it.
    The current state discourages people to use PT to go to visit places that are not familiar to them. They will be frustrated and will have a bad experience and unwilling to use PT again. Next time they will drive.

    The UX should be a requirement for all existing stations and all new stations that are going to be planned. There should also be a regular update when the local point-of-interest changes.
    At the moment it seems to be an afterthought.

    Also some stations oversea has local Maps in the exits. For example they shows a tourist friendly map showing where is the nearby the local town center (ie shopping and cafe areas), where is the local walkable point-of-interests (ie parks, museums, etc), connections (cycleway, walkways) and transit (bus stations, taxi stands). They also have wayfinding to guide the exit for that point-of-interests.

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