Applied’s Founding Director, Tim Fendley has previously appeared on Skylines, in an episode discussing the design process behind Legible London.
This time, in Skyline’s eighth episode, titled ‘Cats in a Bag’, Jonn and Tim’s conversation turns from place-naming to borders and boundaries – specifically, in relation to transportation integration and infrastructure.
Sharing his experiences working with different transport entities, Tim discusses with Jonn how there is a tendency to view a city as one monolithic entity. In reality, there are a number of different organisations – boroughs, departments, authorities – that are responsible for various services. This system of infrastructure usually works well, however problems related to transport and the movement of people can often arise due to a lack of coordination between different authorities – memorably described as “cats tied together in a bag, all fighting each other.”
New York is an example of this. The subway is run by the MTA, and the Department of Transport presides over all boroughs – yet the two organisations only have a functional relationship. In addition to this, there are a number of other providers such as PATH, who run the New Jersey commuter lines that come into Manhattan. Logic would suggest that these would be all part of one overarching transport authority – however politics and legacy often gets in the way of best efforts.
London in comparison, has seen a level of success with integrated transportation infrastructure. A great deal of work went into combining the London Underground with the bus network. By providing information about bus routes for people as they exited tube stations, TfL was able to create a fundamentally connected system and saw an increase in ridership, due to significant improvement in user experience.
Applied has recently been undertaking research into Toronto’s transit system. The city has ten different transport authorities, which only have a functional hand-off between them. One aspect of research involved sending local residents on typical journeys to parts of the city they had never visited before, and asking them to find their way back. For one participant, what should have been a three hour journey turned into eleven hours in transit, when unclearly named stations and bus stops meant that she missed her stop and had to travel an extra two hours just to correct her mistake. Eventually, she gave up and didn’t reach her destination.
The issue here can be traced back to a lack of cohesion between public transport authorities. All lines were running perfectly on time. The problem arose when the participant was meant to change trains. Her journey planner told her to get off at one particular stop and then change to take a bus. However, the station and the bus stop were named differently by their respective transport authorities, an issue which the journey planner didn’t pick up. The result was that the participant missed her stop because she was looking out for the name of the bus stop, which her journey planner had confused for the station.
In recent years there have been significant advances in technology and design that can help to resolve these issues. Apps like Citymapper can be useful in filling the information gap for travellers, without incurring enormous institutional change. However, Tim argues that such technology can only go so far. Digital information has to be connected with the physical. To illustrate this, Tim refers to a transit point in Toronto that has three different bus services and stations. One of the major problems faced by unfamiliar users is how to find their way from one of these stations to another. Current apps simply do not have the capability to provide that level of in-depth information.
To listen to this episode of Skylines, please click here.