FAX = Fresno Area Express
So a few days ago I said I would be talking about the not-so-great bus system in Fresno. Apparently, whenever I say "tomorrow" I get delayed, so I will no longer be saying that.
Anyway, let's begin by looking at the way a new rider might approach riding the system: Online.
What are the routes? How do I get to work? What is the fare? How does one pay? Can I get home?
The rider expects to find all these answers quickly online.
So the first interesting note (and, well, fail), is that FAX does not have its own website. It's a department in the city website, alongside trash collection, parks and council meetings.
That means that all the information needed is found at the not-so-convenient
No where near as easy to remember as San Francisco, www.sfmuni.com or LA, www.metro.net or Boston www.mbta.com .
So right off the bat, the agency (well, department) doesn't give a good impression. They really couldn't take the time to tell the intern to come up with a unique website? I mean, no need to hire an agency or anything, just get fax.gov or something. You know what, it doesn't even have to be that fancy, why not fresno.gov/FAX ? What's the point of having a brand if you won't even use it on your URL?
Anyway. So the website itself isn't pretty, but I admit at first, it's not so hard to navigate.
All that important information is immediately listed, including the fact that you can plan your trip with google maps.
The only thing really missing might be a link for riding with a bike (under FAQ) and service hours (must look at each schedule).
So naturally, a first time rider is interested in knowing "what buses go near me, where do they go, and what times do they run"
Unfortunately, it seems that the only way to answer that question on this website is to click the PDF of the entire system. Ew, PDF.
So why don't I like PDFs? Well, they're large files (8mb for this one), they have trouble on some computers, and the whole zoom-in-zoom-out deal isn't as smooth as it should be.
Well, lets open up the system map then,
An immediate problem presents itself: Where do I live? Naturally, not all streets are shown, only the main ones, but beyond that, it seems only select streets are labeled, and the position of the labels is inconsistent. This is especially true in locations where the bus deviates from the grid. If a street curves, it doesn't make much sense to only show a section of the arc, but that's exactly how the map handles those roads.
Take this little oddity. Looking at the map, it's hard to tell the scale of the blocks.
This one is odd too. Look between Front Street and Olney. Is it an unlabeled street, or some continuation of the previously mentioned? Impossible to tell.
And over here, this is is a giant mall-thing. Where do the buses stop? Impossible to tell from this map. I believe the buses all stop TWICE at riverpark, but the map doesn't explain that.
The following images show the same place. And I still don't know where the buses stop.
Note: Only a few months ago did google maps add FAX, so you can now see the individual bus stops in google maps. Last year? Out of luck. And the "transit" overlay which shows what the actual routes are doesn't exist yet in Fresno. So if you do load google, you have to click each bus stop icon to see what buses actually serve that stop. More on that later.
But the biggest failure of the map is....downtown.
Almost every bus goes downtown. Downtown Fresno is truly a transit mecca, with buses running along every street. Or do they? Can you tell from the system map?
I don't know about you, but when I first saw this map, my reaction was: "Seriously?"
So looking at the map of downtown Fresno, covering the same area, can you tell where the buses go?
Do they run on parallel streets? Do they all run on one street? Who knows. When it comes to downtown, the map is an epic fail.
Surely there's a second map showing downtown in detail right?
Perhaps a middle ground? Nope. You're out of luck.
Oh, and the delicious frosting of this fail-cake is the fact that the city (via FAX) runs a free shuttle that circles downtown all day. Can you spot the route on the map? Don't bother, it's not shown in the system map. Really, a system map without every bus in the system...? And the downtown free shuttle has the highest frequency of all the buses!
So the question we started with was:
"what buses go near me, where do they go, and what times do they run"
And we haven't really been able to answer it. That's not very rider friendly, and if it's so hard to find out where the buses go, what does that say about the rest of the system?
Tomorrow (and by that I mean soon)
The goods and bads of FAX on google maps
A comparison of how other systems present their maps and answer those key questions
And continuing onto the next portion of the ride: Individual map routes and schedules.