A few weekends ago, I was lazily browsing some Saturday morning cartoons, and caught an episode of Spongebob Squarepants that demonstrated very colorfully the effects of unreliable transit service. In this episode, Spongebob and his trusty sidekick Patrick go to a theme park and, on their way home, they decide to take the bus. Given Spongebob’s silly nature, he gets himself kicked off of the bus and is dropped off in an unknown location. As he waits at a desolate, scary, poorly lit bus stop, he starts to get hungry. But, the vending machine isn’t conveniently located next to the bus stop; it’s across the street. When he races across the street to try and get a snack, he misses several buses by a hair.
It’s a pretty funny episode, especially for a transportation-loving gal like myself. If you don’t believe me, watch this short segment.
Spongebob may be just a cartoon, but this clip actually can teach us a lot. It’s important to think about the people who use transit and provide them with the resources, amenities, and predictability that make it attractive, remove the fear factor, and ultimately attract new riders. If Spongebob’s bus service had Bus Tracker like the CTA does, he could have figured out when the next bus was coming and timed his snack attack appropriately. Had a map been available or a bus shelter located near his stop, he wouldn’t have been so confused and worried.
These little things make a big difference to riders’ experiences. Transit gets a bad reputation when three buses come at the same time, stations are leaky, or signs are unclear. If we want to encourage people to take alternative modes of transportation rather than driving solo in their car, we have to keep in mind how important it is to provide quality service that not only gets people where they need to go, but does so in a way that isn’t scary or inconvenient – and maybe, just maybe, is even a little fun.