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WMATA upgrades bus stop signs

Metrobus riders are seeing a new kind of schedule and route map at many stops. A multi-year effort to upgrade the information posted at bus stops has been underway since last year.

The new schedules tell you when the bus comes to the stop you're at, and just that. Formerly, a timetable was posted for the entire route, and the same signs were used all along the line. There was only room to list arrival times for a few places, and the stop where you stood might not be included. Unless you were already familiar with the bus route, the old timetables could be nearly impossible to decipher.

The route maps are also simpler, and new flat display panels are starting to replace the four-sided boxes long in use. Where WMATA and local bus services (Ride-On, Fairfax Connector, etc.) share stops, each will use one side of the board.

New flat panel information displays for bus stops. Left: typical schedule and map. Center: new schedule format. Right: special design used at the Mark Center. Photos from WMATA.

The new signage is now up at 3,500 of the 12,000 Metrobus stops, including all Metrorail stations and stops on priority corridors. The old schedules are gradually being replaced, but 4,500 stops still have them. It will take several more years to finish the makeover—how long depends on how many of the routes where the new signs are already up change their schedules. Each change ties up WMATA staff and contractors, who have to swap out timetables at each stop along the line.

Metro's long-range goal is to post a schedule and map at all 12,000 bus stops. This, however, will require time and additional funding.

Posting a customized schedule at each bus stop—at considerable expense—reverses a cost-saving measure of a decade ago. In the intervening years, WMATA and other bus services have focused on giving riders real-time bus arrival information over the Internet.

But a focus group two years ago urged WMATA to renew the investment in hard-copy timetables at bus stops. For a system trying hard to attract new riders, it makes sense. The bus and the bus stop, in plain sight of everyone on the street, are its best advertisements. The easier it is for someone walking by to figure out when the bus comes and where it goes, the more likely they are to give it a try.

Ben Ross was president of the Action Committee for Transit for 15 years. His book about the politics of urbanism and transit, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, is now available in paperback. 


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The new signs are great, and while they're not present at every stop, they're a huge step forward.

On the downside, they're still not *great.* In particular, the big red signs themselves are a mediocre re-hash of the (terrible) existing design.

I'd have preferred if Metro had gone with something a bit more ambitious, like Seattle's bus signs (which in turn were based off of the design that London uses).

Also, Metro could have paid more than $5 for each of those blue boxes. Like everything about our bus system, it feels cheap and like an afterthought.

by andrew on Apr 10, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport

Wonder why they haven't printed scan codes of the stop schedule as well. So all a person had to do was scan the schedule into their phone or app and they get the arrival time instantly. Boom!

by adelphi_sky on Apr 10, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

Maybe Metro should have done a stop consolidation/elimination round before they decided to put maps and schedules at 12,000 stops, of which 1,000+ could be eliminated without issue?

I'm looking at you, stop at the corner of Washington Blvd at Sycamore St in Arlington, which is less than 100 yards away from the stop at the Metro station.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 10, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

Continuing @Michael Perkins' idea, WMATA could save time and money by nixing every other stop that is just one block from another. I'm looking at you, S route on lower 16th St NW and the 90s along U St NW.

by 7r3y3r on Apr 10, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

Oh God, the 90s are the worst. You could easily throw a football between most of the stops.

On the plus side, answering @adelphi_sky, the ones I've seen do have QR codes on them now that send you to the mobile site, which finally seems to have gotten WMATA's official blessing.

by andrew on Apr 10, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

It's a good start, but the fact that these don't advertise NextBus is a shortcoming.

by Gavin on Apr 10, 2013 12:29 pm • linkreport

Gavin - NextBus is on the flag sign. See the top picture.

by Ben Ross on Apr 10, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

+122 for MPerk!!!!

There are likely hundreds in DC that are w/in minutes of each other. The idea seemed to be place a stop at every possible intersection...

by HogWash on Apr 10, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

If only there were a published SMS interface to NextBus.... and NextBus was accurate....

by George B. on Apr 10, 2013 1:04 pm • linkreport

I have to agree that on many routes there are too many stops too close together. It's the most obnoxious when someone is standing at each one, in clear sight of others who are waiting. The 7 minute trip between Bethesda and Silver Spring on the J routes often takes 20 because of bus stopping. Some are more justifiable because there are not sidewalks along all of East-West Hwy, but where there are sidewalks, every other stop can go. The limit stop buses are great, stopping at maybe every 5th station, but they only run during rush hours, not on weekends.

by Gull on Apr 10, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

@MichaelPerkins, @Hogwash

I went to a meeting a while back about bus stop consolidation on the 80s and 90s lines (, and while most people there were in favor of having fewer stops and decreasing travel time, there were a lot of seniors there who complained about even having to walk an extra block to get to the bus.

So while it may seem like an obvious thing to consider from our point of view, be aware that WMATA's getting a considerable amount of pushback.

by Peter K on Apr 10, 2013 1:07 pm • linkreport

@PeterK, I can imagine just that. Ironically, even if I'm taking the 92 from Cong Heights to, let's say, U Street or the B2 from Anacostia to Potomac Ave or the 30/32 from Alabama Ave to Eastern Market, I often don't see many elderly passengers.

It'll likely be a huge distraction but the larger concern should be how to make the system more effective and might require the elderly/mobility impaired to sacrifice a bit.

by HogWash on Apr 10, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

It's always complicated where buses stop. Sometimes it's squeaky wheels that aren't worth dealing with. Sometimes it's transfer points. Also ADA concerns with old people and mobility impaired people that can't walk far. I mean people say yeah consolidate stops, but few want to give up [i]their[/i] stop.

by Alan B. on Apr 10, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

DDOT would be interested in hearing what people think about the more generalized route map used with the new posted timetables.

by Steve Strauss on Apr 10, 2013 4:03 pm • linkreport

@Ben, that assumes someone knows what NextBus is. I think it would be more effective if the schedule included a single line to the effect of, "To check when the next bus is coming, visit and enter stop ID XXXXXXX."

by Gavin on Apr 10, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

I'm all for QR codes and was thrilled to see them on the new boxes, but it took me to the nextbus website. Boo. That QR Code should have THAT stops info. Anyway, my Android "DC Transit" and Google Now work just fine.

by Milk on Apr 10, 2013 8:15 pm • linkreport

Before you all get into a discussion about getting rid of stops you need to look at the surrounding area are there dangerous streets, large hills/slops, bridges, places of interest, schools, hospitals, bus stops of other routes nearby etc

Yes some stops are too close its well known but some are also too far apart or too far from traffic light to cross the street. Sometimes you just have to have two close stops depending on the area especally when there are no traffic lights or sidewalks Faifax, Prince Georges, Montgomery counties

I would rather have this plus at least saying how long it usually takes to get to major stops, either doing it by stating times for each listing or saying it takes 15min to XX Stop, 25min to XX stop and 40min to XX stop.

Since they have that map on the bus stops do what is done on the front of Ride On schedules and tell people how long it is between stops

by kk on Apr 11, 2013 2:03 am • linkreport

@ Gavin

It would also be nice if WMATA had a seperate number for nextbus or even a 1800 number so that you dont have to hear about Metrorail issues, Track work, etc

right now you go through
1 welcome to Metro
2 list of bulls**t delays that have nothing to do with buses
3 menu options
4 select which one you want
5 welcome to Nextbus please enter your stop id
6 Tracffic, Dog barking, car horn or someone in background makes noise and that system restarts itself
7 repeat number 5
8 after entering id would you like a specific bus routes yes or no
9 then tells you about delays on the actually bus route.
10 your bus time about 3 to 4 minutes after call was first made

It should be

1 dial unique nextbus number
2 welcome to nextbus please enter stop id
3 please say the route you would like or press # to hear a list of routes serving this stop
4 if you would like bus route X2 press 1, 80 press 2, P6 press 3 etc
5 tells you what time bus comes and then delays.

or listing all routes on the bus stop sign and telling you to press 1,2,3,4, etc for whatever bus route instead of having step 4.

by kk on Apr 11, 2013 2:13 am • linkreport

If you remember the menu option (I think it was 2? back when I used the call-in number) you can just press it as soon as the call connects, you don't have to listen to the alerts and stuff.

by MLD on Apr 11, 2013 8:44 am • linkreport


if you dont press it in time you do have to listen to the alerts and I think it is 6

by kk on Apr 11, 2013 9:41 pm • linkreport

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