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.