Reducing Anxiety at the Bus Stop

IXD Studio: Project 3

Team Members: Saumya Kharbanda, Kate McLean, and Lisa Otto

Problem/Opportunity Space
The wait for the bus is a repeated issue that many people brought up. Changing the infrastructure is a massive undertaking and probably not reasonable given the funds or ridership of the bus. How can we make waiting for the bus a less frustrating experience? Could it be productive? Social? Or just less anxiety-creating? We noticed particularly that the multitude of technologies intended to track buses only increased frustration, especially when they were incorrect (even if only by a few minutes) because they highlighted the inaccuracy of the bus and focused people on the act of waiting. In a world of messy infrastructure, is there a more realistic solution than trying to make a perfectly accurate tracking system out of a seam-full infrastructure?

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Final Pitch

We presented four interventions that could be performed in the environment of the bus stop to reduce the anxiety of the wait.

Bus map design would use a poster map and LEDs. Each map would be customized for each stop it is implemented in and be connected to the Port Authority’s GPS bus data in order to show bus tracking.

[example map for shelter at S Negley Ave & Baum Ave]

Download the Final Presentation

Third Research Trip

This time, rather than just observing or asking questions, we boiled down our proposed design interventions to their most basic lo-fi elements that we could easily and quickly prototype, and brought them into the space of the bus stop. We wanted to see what elements people would react strongly to and how they would react.

We found that the small line map garnered little response, even when we tried updating it manually with changing bus data. The chalk, however, was a more successful intervention with a little boy drawing in his own bus line. We think scale was a part of the reason, but also our presence and command of the objects changed the normal dynamic of the bus stop, discouraging the normal conversation and interaction with space.

We also tried bringing in our own chairs to form additional seating. Unsurprisingly, no one seemed much interested in sitting in them, except for one person we engaged in conversation (or rather, he engaged us in conversation after seeing our chalk map). It became quickly apparent that the seating had to feel a part of the environment for it to be used.

First Design Pitch

We presented our design pitch to the class.

While we received some very helpful reference projects to think about, two pieces of advice in particular shaped how we moved forward. Daniel (a guest critic) recommended we better define the parameters of our project — are we redefining what a bus stop could look like or working within the framework that the Port Authority gives us? And he suggested that we considered the presentation requirements that each has. Kristin (the other guest critic) gave us the advice that we should try some playful, fun, lo-fi prototypes at the bus stop to see what people would respond to.


In our initial brainstorm, we reiterated and framed the issues we wanted to address and consider.

Where we have settled on is reconceptualizing the space of the bus stop so that it becomes a more communal space that fosters interaction and reduces the stress of waiting. We would also like to incorporate the bus schedule in a way that uses location and not time (and also integrates with the communal nature of the bus stop) so that it 1) relieves riders of the frustration of the inaccuracy of arrival time, 2) creates a shared understanding of the city and 3) helps direct riders to the correct bus stop.

Second Research Trip

For the second research trip, we went to the same location to do further observation and interviews more closely targeted around waiting and the bus.

Initial Design Ideas

We are considering a service design-type approach that would consider small, cost-effective and implementable changes that have a large overall impact on the experience of waiting for the bus. Some initial ideas:

  • Bus schedules printed at all stops
  • Easily scannable (from a distance and all directions) bus stop signs
  • Bus ticker that indicates when the bus is full and what its final destination is
  • Bus shelters that are wide and deep to allow for movement within and around them


Janelle has finished grocery shopping and is hoping to take the bus home. This isn’t her regular bus route since she only comes to this grocery store every few weeks to stock up on bulk items the grocery store near her house doesn’t have. The bags full of groceries weigh her down and make her reluctant to walk home. Hands occupied with the bags, Janelle looks across the street to the intersection from the grocery store. She is worried, since she comes here only for grocery shopping, that she won’t know which corner to head to, but she is clearly able to locate her bus stop from where she is standing. She enjoyably passes the time while she waits. And when her bus arrives she knows for certain it’s hers from the information provided.


1. The dominant group

  • Age 50+
  • Live in the neighborhood, are familiar with the territory
  • Initiate social interactions — comfortable striking up conversations
  • Typically know the schedule already, through the cycle of buses instead of exact timings, or are comfortable waiting (“it’ll come when it comes”)

2. The young people

  • Young people, students, young professionals
  • Clearly impatient, fidgety
  • Constantly checking their phones, usually to track the bus
  • Some interactions take place within the group, usually related to the bus schedule or tracking technology
  • Unaware about what is happening in their surroundings

3. The elderly

  • Aged 75+
  • Generally appear uncomfortable or nervous; feel vulnerable in public spaces; isolate themselves
  • Do not use any technology for bus-trackings (spotted one with a printed schedule)
  • Very alert and watchful of their surroundings

Patterns & Themes that Emerged from the Research

Older people 50+ seem more comfortable in the space. Students have headphones or are on their phones, more self-isolating.

Social interactions between younger people and older people seem to take place when initiated by older person.

Elderly (75+) or handicapped people seem uneasy, vulnerable, fearful. They do not like to be approached, even if by non-threatening people (i.e. young woman). Will move away after interaction, distance themselves. Self-isolating and hyper-aware of surroundings.

Women seem to congregate in groups. New arrivals seem to shelter to choose places to wait around other women.

While many younger people are clearly using apps to track bus times, other older riders are not using apps at all — either because they are unfamiliar, know the bus patterns or prefer the material they have.

People often have extensions of their body (bags, bikes, groceries, kids) when looking to catch a bus.

The space that the bus stop is situated in affects the type and amount of socializing occurring at the bus stop.

deep shelter (left) vs shallow shelter (right)

Stray Observations

While standing by shelter, no digital distraction, was approached by older (50+) man who had been socializing in shelter. Asked me about Kate’s cycling shoes. Had a good back and forth conversation. Light-hearted, laughing, etc. he then went back to his group.

Smokers seem to like the shelters as a windbreak.

People are casually dressed, best dressed people seem to be students, young professionals

Young woman asked Kate if I had seen the 71A. More interaction within age group than between age groups.

Older black woman (50+) enters shelter and asks about the 64 bus and whether she’d missed it or not. Then begins conversation with Kate and Saumya about her plans to get her hair done today. She tells childhood stories of getting her hair done and educates us on the different ways her hair and that of other black women can be done, should be done, the difficulties of it, etc. Very interesting look into her life. A rewarding social interaction.

Further research into the head signs on buses (where bus number, name, and seasonal tagline are shown), shows that while these signs can be changed, it must be pre-programmed at the garage and it is a difficult process. As a result, the head signs are infrequently changed. Possible design opportunity for allowing riders who are waiting to know the “full” or “not full” status of the approaching bus.

Asked a woman if the wait time was normal — she gave me the next time the bus was coming and Lisa asked her how she knew and she said she looked at the schedule she picked up from in the bus. Asked if it was accurate and she said pretty accurate, yes.

Saw man pull out a several sheet home printed paper schedule.

Very little talking going on at the bus stop on the narrow sidewalk — perhaps because everyone had to stand in a flat line to let walkers pass.

Older man waiting for the bus: “I don’t check the schedule — I just know on Saturdays it comes every 30 minutes. I saw a bus going the other way so I know it’s due.”

Woman saw Lisa asking a man about scheduling and then not get on a bus so she tried to direct her to the correct bus (assumed she wanted 71A).

Couple stops to ask Lisa what bus to take. She asks if they have a smart phone… They do but the “transit part is not working.”

Initial Research Trip

We did interviews and observations at the intersection of Centre Ave. & S. Negley Ave. because of its proximity to two bus stops and a grocery store.

Man Waiting for 86 bus
He never checks schedule and prefers to just show up despite irregularity on weekends. It’s not worth it to carry a big, thick book and then have to call and etc. etc. etc., he said regarding having to figure out the schedule: “If they come, they come.” It’s terrible on weekends, though, he emphasized. Saturday the wait is long, but: “Sunday — forget about it.” So he tries to go out and do his errands on Saturday.

Takes the bus 7 days a week. Emphasized the scheduling problem on weekends. She also drives sometimes, but prefers commuting by bus — it’s easier, and she doesn’t have to worry about parking. Half hour commute, she gets on at a stop where she knows she’ll get a place to sit.

James, college student
Mostly takes the bus, or walks to school. Frustrated with the schedules and frequency of buses. Focussed on tracking the buses in order to minimize waiting, which he considers “time-consuming.” Listed tracking apps he was familiar with.

Kent Newman
Walks to work (¾ mile), prefers to walk for health reasons and not worry about parking. Aside from this, he seemed to not have strong feelings about any mode of transportation.

She was waiting for the bus at Centre Ave, on her way to get a driver’s license (though she does not own a car). Lives 2 min away from the bus stop, and takes the bus everywhere. Was also concerned about waiting time, uses an app (Busgazer) to track schedules.

Jeffery, 86
carries an oxygen tank
Him and his partner are both really happy with the bus, use it exclusively to get around. Uses priority seating, and remarked that people on the bus are very kind. The bus stop is close to their home (¾ block). Mentioned that the bus stop is a good meetup place because it is sheltered.
In terms of walking, only crosses where there is a light. Even though he sometimes finds it difficult to follow the signals, crossing at the light makes him be more careful and patient and follow the signals.

Stray Observations

At intersection:
The pattern of the traffic light at this intersection allows cars to proceed in both directions before allowing pedestrians to cross in all directions.

Pedestrians frequently cross (jaywalk) with traffic — often in a cascade. First just one pedestrian will jaywalk, then two, then three to five will follow in quick succession.

Pedestrians often began crossing when traffic had stopped just before the crosswalk signal had turned in their favor.

I heard pedestrians negotiating with their companions about their ability to jaywalk:
“I’m going to go.”
“I thought about it…”
“My way or the highway.”

I saw several people approaching the intersection while looking at their phone, stopping at the intersection and surveying traffic, then returning to their phone. After 30 seconds to 1 minute has passed they watch traffic more attentively.

Intersections create a moment of shared interaction between pedestrians.
Had one pedestrian turn to me and exasperated exclaim “Oh my god. Why!” after waiting for full light cycle to cross.
Had another waiting pedestrian unprompted try to engage me about my clothing.

Typically, all pedestrians will have crossed before the signal will have finished counting down.

Many people at the crosswalk and waiting at bus station carried bright blue bags from Market District which stood out clearly in the landscape as identifiers of their origins.

At Bus Stop:
at Centre Ave bus stop outside Market District Giant Eagle

People are constantly on the phones while waiting for the bus.

Benches are used almost exclusively by older people or people with disabilities, while the rest of the people take over the sidewalk near the actual stop. People tended to lean against the fence or sit on the curb after an initial wait of a 5–7 minutes.

The bus stop becomes a point of social interaction between regulars. The “Hey, how are you today?” greeting was frequently exchanged. Several people also stopped a few minutes on their way to catch up.
One man stepped off the bus, stopped to chat with a woman who was waiting at the stop.
A couple walking by stopped to catch up with a man waiting at the stop.
Greetings also exchanged between strangers like “good morning”, or “beautiful day today!” One man also wished me a happy halloween.

Bus wait timings (from when I started observing)
64: 10 minutes (scheduled every 7 minutes)
71C: 15 minutes (scheduled every 8 minutes)
82: 15 minutes (scheduled every 12 minutes)
86: 30 minutes (scheduled every 30 minutes)

MDes in Interaction Design Candidate at CMU. portfolio: