Smart Bus Challenge
Land Transport Authority 2018 Competition (Top 5)
Re-imagining the future of smart buses in Singapore
May - Aug 2018
Smart Bus Challenge is a competition held by Land Transport Authority (LTA) to explore the possibilities of futuristic smart buses. The driving questions for this project were: What features should a smart public bus of the future have? How would technology and features on the public bus change the way commuters travel and behave in public bus in the future?
Along with 3 product designers, Orion, Song Yu and Feliciana, we joined this competition as Team S.O.N.G. Our starting goal was to improve the public bus experience in Singapore - a smart public bus should not be defined by fancy technology it displays, but with a human-centred goal to meet users’ needs.
We achieved a Merit Award being the Top 5. I was mainly involved in the UX of Omnibus, UX/UI of bus.feed.
Define The Problem - Field study
To improve the public bus experience, we needed to define the problem and discover what were passengers’ pain points during their bus commute. We rode the bus during peak hours of a Monday (Morning peak, Weekday afternoon, Evening peak), and made observations of passengers during our commute. Since we were a group of 4, we each took buses from different regions (Town to East, Town to West). Here were our observations:
Morning and Evening peak
Uneven distribution in the bus
Many people clustering in the middle and unwilling to move to the rear of the bus.
There are two doors, one at the front of the bus and another at the middle. During peak hour, the front door will be flooded with people trying to board the bus, thus people can only alight at the middle door. For crowded buses, this results in a huge jam in the middle of the bus. Inefficient crowd flow causes difficulties in boarding and alighting.
Not moving to the back also results in wasted space, more people could have boarded but there was no space to enter
Bus company SBS Transit had to create a bus campaign “Move to the Rear” for this issue
People will not want to move to the rear of the bus, because they find that being at the rear is too inconvenient to alight, they will be blocked by a sea of people while trying to exit
Lack of indication of bus route
For people familiar with the route, they occasionally have to look at their surroundings to gauge where they are at, how close they are to their destination
For tourists and people unfamiliar with the route, it was easy to spot them as they were using a map application to make sure they do not miss their stop.
Once, a Japanese couple was looking at a physical map for a long time then finally decided asked me “Where do we alight if they we want to go to Orchard (the central shopping district)?” So I told them the bus stop name, ‘At 313 Somerset’. Then I realized it was not enough as the bus does not display the names of bus stops. I had to describe the region and surroundings of bus stop.
This made me realize how the lack of a display to indicate the bus route can result in insecurity while travelling.
Bus is relatively empty (Though depending on region - Some buses serving routes in central region will still have limited seats available)
In neighbourhood regions, people who just went grocery shopping sometimes place their plastic bags on the empty seat next to them
Define the Problem - User Interviews
To further deepen our research, we had to gain insights from people to find out their pain points. We conducted interviews at a non-peak hour.
We interviewed 15 local Singaporeans varying age groups, youth and adult. At the bus stop, most people stated that they often rely on external apps that are catered to the checking of bus arrival timings. Popular ones include SG BusLeh!, SG Bus, Singabus. For those who are not as technologically-savvy, like the elderly, they do not use apps and usually gauge the timings of the bus from experience. These apps have a sole purpose - To inform users of bus arrival timings.
To pay for the bus, one has to use a transport card (Ez-link) or credit/debit card that is activated for transport use. A card wallet system, one will have to manually top up their card at a train station (even if they were using a credit/debit card). At times, people were unsure of the value in their card had left, until they get warnings or “rejections” by the bus tapping machine.
One told me of a story whereby she had insufficient value in her card, but could not top up her card because she was not near a train station prior to boarding the bus. She also had no coins, hence she just paid 2 dollars cash for ride worth 60 cents. It is a pain to board the bus if you have no value in your transport card, no coins and you’re not near a train station to topup your card. What if you can do this on the fly?
Main pain points:
#1 Space distribution in the bus is uneven, crowd flow is inefficient
#2 While commuting, it is difficult to gauge where the bus is due to lack of display
#3 Process prior to boarding of bus is troublesome in terms of payment, unable to manage value of card on the fly
Our purpose is to create a simple yet sophisticated travelling experience that is available for all, intuitive and comfortable.
Hence, with overarching vision for our proposed approach, we laid down the design goals of Omnibus - our ‘bus for all’ marked by ease of use.
Singapore’s public bus commuters range widely between age and accessibility - young and old, physical impairments
Design of Omnibus to cater to ranging needs
2. Optimized for efficiency
Users should be able to achieve their goals easily - alighting and exiting, checking information of bus route
3. Modern, futuristic yet approachable
While fitting of a smart bus design, it should not lose the comfortable and approachable aspect - ‘a bus for all’ vision
We crafted a possible flow to see how both Omnibus and bus.feed could work in tandem, for peak and non-peak hour scenarios.
Rendered by Songyu and Orion
Remodelled space, reimagined crowd movement
To cater for larger crowd flow during peak hours, we increased standing space in the middle of the bus. We introduced a back door for easier alighting, encouraging people to move to the rear. With teal LEDs on the floor that guides the flow of commuters to the exit, this acts as a subtle facilitation for crowd movement.
Increased accessibility - Ramp
Smooth ramps in place of stairs in current buses - prevents falls and connects the rear with the rest of the bus more seamlessly.
Display live information of bus route, along with upcoming bus stops and transfer options. The presence of passenger information display system is vital to sense of security while commuting. This also functions as a versatile screen that can also run ads or campaigns, which are otherwise pasted on the walls of the bus.
Bus Screen rendered by Feliciana.
Bag hanger Allowing people to hang their bags at the sides of the seats, for example plastic bags after grocery shopping
Interactive LCD Allow people to top up their cards even on the bus without needing to go to the train station. More geared towards elderly commuters who will have less access to smartphones and bus.feed.
Handgrip Stable hand-grips with ergonomic grooves provides an additional alternative to the current swinging hand grip, which prevents commuter from swaying back and losing their balance when the bus accelerates.
bus.feed is an all-in-one commuting companion app, optimized for Omnibus. It aims to enhance the experience in Omnibus by enabling a more personalized trip, also targets the 3rd pain point that Omnibus does not address - the troublesome and disjointed pre-boarding process. This is where my role was most involved in.
Simplify users’ commuting experience by keeping them updated with their bus route, manage travel card finances on the fly
Function as their personal bus journey companion
1. Straightforward, Simple to use
Accessibility is of utmost importance - catered to wide range of age and accessibility within public commuters
Straight to the point - app should be convenient to users, showing what is essential in a quick manner
2. Calming yet energetic visual style
Bus.feed should work in tandem with Omnibus, and not feel disjointed
3. Efficiency as a priority
Common tasks like topping up transport card/paying digitally, able to be performed on the run
Customization to meet varying users’ needs, users can access information they want in a faster manner
Afterward brainstorming and wireframing, I delved into the User Interface of this app but many decisions were not well thought through. I also made the mistake of following a visual design scheme based on my own perception instead of the overall theme, in which the colours did not suit Omnibus. I proceeded to test the app with users in order to gather feedback.
These were several design critics from users we tested it with:
Expand button position not intuitive
Display of bus arrival timings not efficient: No indication of vacancy.
Bus stop page has no shortcut to favourite buses quickly
Is a profile page truly necessary?
What will the homepage display when user is not on a current trip? This prototype does not account for the user journey made previously
I took a step back as this was conflicting to some of the goals we had earlier. I once again looked at the design goals, and the user journey with Omnibus.
Second Round Wireframing
Mapping the ideal user flow
In this user flow, I focused on the variables. There needs to be a clear pathway as to how the app can detect the bus that the user is in, setting it as current route, and what happens when the user is not in a bus. I needed a clearer way to demonstrate the app, how it works.
After brainstorming and re-working on the prototype, I displayed the two modes of home page - Pre-boarding mode and Onboard mode.
Two modes of Home: Pre-boarding & Onboard
Pre-boarding mode is when user has not boarded a bus, hence location services are used to detect nearby bus stops and respective bus arrival timings. Onboard mode is when user has boarded a bus, in which it displays current route and personalised information based on user’s chosen destination.
From Pre-boarding to Onboard mode
Two ways that the app can switch from Pre-boarding mode to Onboard mode.
1 - If user pays using the Wallet function of the app (phone to bus tapping machine), the payment links bus.feed to the current bus.
Payment process is kept simple, and the app will prompt the user if he/she wants to set current ride as the bus that has just been paid for. The user will choose destination in order for the app to be able to show real-time personalised information.
2 - If user does not pay via bus.feed, the app can still prompt user for change of mode using pop-up.
Onboard mode - Real-time information, personalised
Live data of bus location and estimated time of arrival at destination. Users can set notifications that alerts them 10 mins prior to arrival. This enables users to have real-time information personalised to their needs and gain assurance while commuting.
Quick way to favourite buses, which allows users to track their favourites on the go.
I am very grateful to have participated in this competition, and attaining Top 5 prize. In my mind, there are many ways we can still go to improve this project, like the accessibility of the bus should have been given more thought - seats for parent and toddler, space for helper to take care of the disabled. Also, our enhancing features could also been affirmed with user testing/reflecting on the relevance to solving user problems. Lastly, we could have looked into the visual language used - how relevant our project was to Singapore’s style.
This project was a complicated process as we found ourselves coming up with features in our heads that we thought were good to solving the “problems”, but actually not adding value as we tackled our design with a wrong perspective - feature first and not problem first. At times, not enough usability testings were conducting to affirm our design decisions. For example, the initial prototype of bus.feed had a Points of Interests mode (Profile page), that once triggered the user’s your current route will display tourist places of interests. We thought it was good for users to have, especially tourists, but yet nothing from our research affirmed the need for such a mode plus our app was not garnered towards tourist exploration. What are tourists’ needs? To form such a design decision we should have gotten insights from them etc. Hence, I removed it and it made me rethink the structure of the app as well.