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Information designs as a mediator in the transitions of oral information to digital information on public transport.

Masivo Integrado de Occidente MIO

El siguiente texto hizo parte de la ponencia dada en el 7º Forum Traphic and Transport, del International Institute for Information Design (IIID) en la ciudad de Pölten / Austria en septiembre de 2012.

El texto busca presentar los problemas a los que se enfrentan los usuarios al usar información en los sistemas de transporte, para ello, se remite a analizar cómo el diseño de información participa en la transición entre el sistema de transporte colectivo tradicional de la ciudad de Cali (Colombia) y el nuevo sistema de transporte basado en BRT.


Background

Cali is the third largest city of Colombia, with two million four hundred and forty thousand (2,440,000) inhabitants, and a potential for public transport system, of one million four hundred thousand (1,400,000) passengers per day. In 2010 it lived the implementation of a controversial restructuring program that was intended to replace the mass transit system that for years had worked, but that, over time, lost its efficiency and consistency. The “Masivo Integrado de Occidente, MIO”, was the name given to the public transport project that was implemented to solve the problems of mobility of people in Cali, referring to standards of quality and efficiency to enhance the experience of transportation of people by using public transport.

The transformation of the routines used for years in the city by the inhabitants to identify and classify, changed so quickly that they didn’t have time to appropriate the new proposal. They had to use it without the transition process, transgressing cultural aspects deeply-rooted for years in people.

Public transport in Cali long used mnemonic systems to differentiate its bus routes, based on a simple principle: the color. It facilitated the differentiation of the buses. An example: Black and White bus, Yellow Cream bus, Green Silver bus, and others. Now, for the first decade of the century, the structure based on the colors had faded into the background, leaving aside the color as a primary identification factor and replacing it with decorative color schemes. Service providers, did not realize the power of color as an information system and set it aside, keeping only the company name on it, in some cases.

The color used for decades, had been built by people culturally speaking, and had been assumed as a logic for understanding the transportation system in the city. The usage of the “system” of transportation by the people, was culturally rooted and passed down from generation to generation spontaneously, without resorting to data elements arranged in the city, because they did not exist. The way the information was available, was inconsistent and changed regularly without responding to a planned information architecture, or a pattern. The color was used as a resource to distinguish data support, but not with an intention to help to improve its visualization and to reduce the effort to read it.

The bus was the main source of communication. On the street, users had to know in advance the bus routes, as no information was available on the tracks to report on this, because the bus-stops were not labeled. Learning was spontaneously achieved, and was transmitted from adults to children, from regular users to the occasional ones, a knowledge acquired through experience was managed by years of use.

The Problem (El problema)

The main aspects taken into account in Cali to reconsider the scheme for the provision of transport services were:  over-supply, growing demand, the “penny war” that consisted in covering the bus route in the shortest time possible regardless of the conditions of quality service providing, transportation timing  and poor quality in general. The alternative was to create a unified transportation system that could meet the needs of collective mobility that Cali needed.

The Masivo Integrado de Occidente-MIO is a system of bus rapid transit BRT that uses exclusive roads for circulation, called trunks, with stations, and mixed corridors called pre-trunks with labeled stops. The system uses an electronic payment card through an integrated rechargeable card that integrates the  services of direct transfer from a route to another, and virtual, when  the service is used outside the trunks to access stations from the stops.

Cali incorporated the MIO service in 2009, breaking into the city hoping to meet the mobility needs of people and solve the problems of transportation, to update the infrastructure and to provide the city of better public transport service conditions. One of the key factors for implementing the system was the abandonment of old practices of public transportation. The change involved the adoption of new routines for users to move from the oral tradition and spontaneity controlled by bus drivers and the companies providing the service in the previous scheme, to the adoption of new, based on a structured system with international logic operation that relied on planning. The proper functioning of the system depended largely on the right use of it by users.

For two years the new system didn´t have a semiotic platform to inform users about ways to access and use it.

The Solution.

The creation of a semiotic platform, was in early 2011. The information system included informational signs, guidance, advice and rules that should, this time, inform people about the use and benefits of the new system, facilitate connections between the different routes and reduce the cognitive effort required when moving from one location to another. However, the incorporation of the semiotic platform did not provide the expected benefits, because it seemed that the elements placed did not speak the same language of the users.

To provide stable information for decision-making was the objective of the semiotic platform, however, to the surprise of many, it did not work as expected.

Identifying buses by alpha numeric codes, stops by arbitrary designations and undergoing a rigorous schedule of times, all at once became a challenge for people who had to learn a new language, a new way of relating to the transportation system.

 Critics to the project management and its implementation

  • The use of a map as a mediator to use the system establishes one of the challenges that the design of information had to face as it involved a new logic for the people in Cali. To locate in the city and identify the destination involves a process of abstraction that people in Cali were not used to.
  • The transition between the previous and current scheme occurred without an accompanying process that would allow people to update their knowledge and facilitate the understanding of the system.
  • The information is to be used, not to decorate or fill the space, people should be able to use it, use it when required. The current signage scheme employed by the MIO system does not facilitate its understanding.
  • This is where the design of information is involved, taking into account  that information is not only present, but that it resolves the problem efficiently: to understand the limitations and establish new ways that allow most people to use the information and transport efficiently.

Corrections and proposals for a new project, guidelines.

  • Moving from the lack of information in the scheme of providing transportation service to a system where everything is determined, caused general misinformation among users, who resorted to the old practice of asking someone how to use it, since the new information system made the process more complex instead of easier.
  • The information contained and codified, was established as a barrier and not as a vehicle to facilitate the handling of the system by the users; it was also noticed that the information system is not yet consolidated and does not generate confidence in the users to contribute positively to the mobility, orientation and safety of users of mass transport.
  • It is possible to identify the saturation in the amount of information given to the user, excess in the encoded information and the lack of educational processes to incorporate the new information proposal of the MIO system.

Conclusion

How to prepare for the incorporation of the new logic of transport and the handling of new information flows? It must be assumed that the design goal is not the production of the object, but the generation of wanted reactions.

This assumption implies deep thought from the perspective of the solution given to the inhabitants of Cali, where they were given a large object that would solve most of their mobility impairments but forgot for whom it was done.

The main process of information design in establishing processes to learn, act and interact, didn´t take place. Therefore, the estimated effect by the system administration, on the knowledge of the people has been little.

The cultural impact will be felt over time as the information provided in the present, directly or indirectly affects the way people interact with information and with others, by determining certain situations and in the long run will establish habits.

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