The TransitScreen service is a live, real-time display of all transportation options within close proximity of a determined location (including bus, light-rail, bikeshare, and carshare). The screen makes multi-modal travel information more accessible, viewable and engaging so that commuters, visitors, and employees can make informed decisions about travel options. TransitScreen is currently available in 20 other locations in North America including Washington DC, San Francisco, Baltimore, Houston, Raleigh-Durham, Salt Lake City and San Diego.

The screen installed in the lobby of the Seattle Municipal Tower is the first Transit Screen in Seattle. We are proud to showcase this new technology along with companies such as Amazon and Children’s Hospital who also plan to install these screens.

This is a great development for riders, especially the combination of modes such as bikeshare and carshare. I hope it gets more widespread adoption, and I love how SDOT is getting scrappy and installing real-time information where they can, whether it’s these transit screens or the One Bus Away signs that started appearing a couple years back.

And yet, if I can be a design pedant for a second, it bothers me that Seattle transit information systems put so little thought into a common visual vocabulary. Metro has their signage and schemes, ST has theirs, and SDOT is just looking for ways to make people’s lives easier on a shoestring. Nothing stands out to give the rider a uniform sense of “oh, there’s transit service over here.”

It would be so wonderful if, at some point, someone came along and did for Seattle’s transit wayfinding and signage what Vignelli’s 1970 standards manual did for New York’s MTA.

47 Replies to “TransitScreen Launches Downtown”

  1. Not to be too prejudiced or anything but it’s nice that this sign is going up in the muni tower, but the high traffic area is 3rd Avenue at Pike and Pine. Yes, there’s an OBA styled display on the east side of Pine St but there needs to be another one of those in the Pike/Pine area maybe in addition to this new multi-agency display.

    1. I believe these screens will be appearing in other locations soon as well. The Municipal Tower was, for obvious reasons, low-hanging fruit.

  2. Does anyone know whether these new transit screens have an audio function for those who are unable to read the screen?

    1. TransitScreen is compatible with two major screen readers, and visually impaired employees will be able to access the same information and have it read by their own computers or devices.

  3. I have to agree- great addition to the transit landscape, but it is pretty ugly and not well branded. I don’t think, at this point, that it needs to be branded itself, but it should borrow metro, sound transit, and pronto branding for those routes. And have a map.

    1. @EHS — all the transit that’s currently on screen is from Metro, and we borrowed their branding. If you go to our website, you’ll see lots of examples where we use multiple agencies’ branding. What would you expect to see for these agencies?

  4. I guess I’m supposed to be dazzled by all the information cluttering the screen and think this is what progress looks like, but unless these screens are placed at major transit stations or hubs, or the same info is available on my cell, it’s pretty much useless.

    PS, I wonder how they picked the Muni building as their first location. Hmmm.

    1. Actually they are just as useful (possibly more) as you’re leaving your place of work then at the stops, particularly if you have multiple choices on how you get home. That way you can see which bus is arriving next and head to the appropriate stop, rather than heading to the stop and realizing you have to wait 20 min but could have caught your alternate bus at another stop immediately.

      1. Brett, give me a detailed example of how your description of its use will be commonly put in to practice. In the example, give me a routes, destination, etc. Walk me through how TransitScreen at the Muni building will be used in everyday life.

      2. I’m a little skeptical as well. I’ve always assumed most people make their transportation choices when they leave their desk (either on their work computer or mobile device), not when they are standing the lobby of their building. I think real-time signage is great at transit hubs (ahem like the transit tunnel someday?!) but less useful in building entrances.

      3. I think its a proof of concept right now, but I really like the SmartWalk piece where the screen and wayfaring information is broadcast on the sidewalk in front of the building or against the side of a building.

        Re: building entrances. Every building entrance is a building exit.

  5. It would be so wonderful if, at some point, someone came along and did for Seattle’s transit wayfinding and signage what Vignelli’s 1970 standards manual did for New York’s MTA.

    As iconic as vignelli’s subway map is, it’s beloved status has only happened over the past few years since recent MTA maps aren’t liked by regular riders do to obvious visual clutter & disorientation. has more info & the debate.

    1. I’m a native New Yorker and I *don’t* like the Vignelli map, nor get what’s so great about it. The current map, while somewhat cluttered, is quite informative, especially as to what lines go where (not always clear from station names, since so many have the same name).

    2. Honestly, most regular riders don’t care all that much about the map, any more than you’d care about the route map in the schedule for a bus you ride every day. They know where they’re going and how to get there: they don’t look at the map. Regular riders, if asked about the map (or anything else about the NYCTA system), will of course complain about it, but that’s because they’re New Yorkers and it’s what they do. :-)

    3. Forget about the map, Vignelli’s greater design legacy that still affects everyone riding the New York City Subway to this day is his standard signage and wayfinding system, which was linked to in the original post.

  6. I think a bigger issue than design is ongoing maintenance. Most of the realtime comes from OBA–excluding the SLUT. When Link and Sounder eventually publish realtime feeds, those might come directly from ST. What happens when one of those services goes down? How do you get schedule data updates to the device? What happens if the device itself goes down?

    There’s a guy in Portland trying to figure out the same issues:

    1. @Tim, we have over 100 TransitScreen displays currently running in a dozen cities all over North America. While ongoing maintenance can be a challenge, what makes it easier is that the device doesn’t need to be updated — all the information is managed and updated on our servers, which pull the information direct from 50 agencies and sharing economy companies.

    2. PDXBus (what a number of people consider to be the best Portland system) simply puts a red X through the service when it is cancelled, so it is obvious what happened. The time is shown in gray if it isn’t receiving the GPS signal and is going off of scheduled time. If it is receiving the signal then it shows up as blue, unless it is less than 5 minutes away. If it is less than 5 minutes away then it is red.

      It works for me, even if it did take over a year for me to figure out the color codes.

  7. Personally, I’d love it if ST, Metro, etc, adopted a design scheme similar to SeaTac/Port of Seattle’s wayfinding designs. Not being from Seattle originally, my first experiences with getting around, by myself, in the Seattle area was with the aid of signs at SeaTac airport. It would be fantastic if that experience could extend outside of the airport and enable a non-native to seamlessly figure out how to travel from point A to point Z.

    1. Sound Transit’s and Sea-Tac Airports signs are similar, although not the same. The Transit agencies need to come up with a common way finding, signage, and information/publishing standards (why does one company use letters on their maps/timetables for time points, three use numbers, one uses nothing at all). Bus stop flags should all have the same kinds of information, and a similar appearance. Why does Sound Transit use Pierce Transit bus stop flags in Pierce County, and Metro ones in King County, I agree having 2 or 3 flags hanging off a pole looks bad, but there has to be a better way. I respect the need for each agency to keep its own identity, however with the agencies working closer than ever together, a common set of standards needs to adopted. Amtrak and the Port of Seattle could even help in this and design/update the systems designed to complement one another.

  8. The utility of these seems somewhat limited. They might be helpful for tourists or people who are infrequent visitors to a given location but for that crowd the amount of information may be overwhelming. For most commuters or regular visitors the decision about mode and/or stop location is likely made before leaving their offices or on the elevator ride down.

    1. You’d be surprised how many people don’t plan their travel before departing. If you’re in a hurry, you don’t have time to plan, but you do have a few seconds to check the TransitScreen.

      The same display can also be viewed on desktop computers, tablets, and mobile devices. We’re working with SDOT and Metro get them in the offices of commuters as well.

      1. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t plan their travel before departing. If you’re in a hurry, you don’t have time to plan, but you do have a few seconds to check the TransitScreen.”

        So you have your marketing pitch down – although if people stop and think about it the numbers would likely be fairly small.

        This still seems like a solution in search of a problem. How do you folks make money on this anyway – is it through contracts with the cities you locate in or advertising/sponsorships on the site?

      2. The whole point of frequent service is that people don’t have to base their lives around a schedule and memorize it. They just go to the stop and transit comes within fifteen minutes. The issue here is when service to the same destination is distributed among several stops rather than one. Ideally they should all be at the same stop but sometimes that’s not feasable due to mode differences, other route differences, or too many routes. (For instance, the 40 is both a Ballard route and a Fremont route, so it could be grouped with the D or with the 5/26/28. But the D is also grouped with the Uptown routes (1/2/13). Ideally these would all be at the same stop but Metro thinks that’s too much for 3rd & Pine, although they do all come together at 3rd & Virginia. So I have to go between two bus stops to see whether the 40 or the other bus is coming next.)

  9. The picture is too small to see what it’s offering. The green bars are next-bus times? How is this better than the One Bus Away screens besides having more forms of transit? And how can you possibly show the hundreds of alternatives from some of the downtown areas in a comprehensible way? Does it have an interactive menu to narrow the focus?

      1. I guess the photo accomaning this post is just a lower resolution, cropped version of the photo from the transitscreen website.

  10. Our worst information problems don’t involve reader boards.

    1. Lack of right of way makes on-time short headway schedules impossible to keep outside DSTT.

    2. Our “core” service is weak to bad. Vancouver BC trolley driver apologized to me that after 10 pm, his route’s headway went from 4 min. to 8.

    3. Information training really bad for both drivers and information operators. To their credit, individual workers in both groups inform themselves- but many in both categories correctly feel that unpaid training is not their job. They’re right. Like transit lanes, every transit vote should include intense information training.

    4. As very long-time driver and passenger, have discovered how much first-hand knowledge it takes to make a trip both efficient and, more important if you’re older or have children younger, comfortable and enjoyable. You know- bearable.
    Otherwise…first transfer could be last bus ride.

    5. Calling our private guards “security” is an insult to sworn police officers, dangerous to the young workers themselves, and a repulsive fraud on the passenger public. A disgusting result of official cheap-out and exaggerated media-driven fear. Like all present poitics- but that’s [OT].

    DSTT and elsewhere, any transit platform worker not driving or supervising should be called a station agent and trained for passenger assistance and information-probably best guarantee of both transit performance and real security.

    Those who want law-enforcement career- swear them in as county or city transit police- visible, present, and intensively trained for transit’s special policing needs.

    From what I’ve seen firsthand in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, Securitas is capable of extremely high standards provided by excellent personnel. Unions involved should unite and cooperate to give these people solid representation they deserve.

    And if they know what’s good for them, so should requisite officials, administrative and elected.

    Mark Dublin

  11. Could someone give me a specific example as how this will be useful in a common, everyday way? Brett said this information will be vital to people in the Muni building who have the option of catching two different buses that stop at two different locations. I asked Brett for an example, but so far he either can’t, or won’t give me an answer. Can anyone else? And so what if it says some bus or train you’re going to take is delayed by seven minutes. What are you going to do, go back up to your office for a few minutes then come back down?

    1. You’re asking for examples of buses going to the same destination that stop in different locations? Here’re some possibilities:

      * 255 (in tunnel) + 545/311/whatever (on 4th Avenue) to Montlake and Yarrow Point.
      * 511/402/405/410/415/417/422/424 (on 4th Avenue) + 412/413/416/421/425/435 (on 2nd Avenue) to southern Snohomish County
      * 66 (on 3rd Avenue) + 71/72/73/74 (in tunnel) to University District
      * 66 (on 3rd Avenue) + 72/73/77 (in tunnel) to Roosevelt
      * 40 + D-Line (multiple stops on 3rd Avenue)
      * 12 (Marion) + 2 (Spring) to Capitol Hill
      * Many others I can’t think of off the top of my head

    2. Say you’re going home. You live close to a stop along route 5, but not that far from an E Line stop, and the E Line is faster, so either one takes about the same amount of time on average. If the 5 is coming sooner you walk to 3rd/James, and if the E Line is coming sooner you walk to 3rd/Colombia.

      1. In some areas you have like 4-5 buses to choose from if you don’t mind walking.

        Near Holman and Greenwood, you have the 40, 5 and (with a little walking) the D and E at your disposal.

        If one doesn’t mind walking a bit further, the 41 is a petty straight shot to Northgate, which isn’t that far from that intersection.

        With a bit of knowledge, patience and ability to walk longer distances, you can have a lot of bus options in the right location.

        Add traffic maps from your phone and knowledge of the bus routes and you can make fairly good educated guesses as to which bus will get you to where you are going faster.

      2. Right — when I lived in upper Fremont and commuted to the eastside regularly I’d come out of the tunnel at Westlake on my way home and check OBA on my way to 3rd/Pine. This was before the E Line, so all the routes I might use (5, 16, 26, 28, 40, 358) stopped at 3rd/Pine… but still I had a system where knowing how far away the various routes were was useful (I also checked OBA when approaching Montlake and got off there if it was late in the evening and the 44 was about to arrive… unless I was reading a good book). These days it would be even more useful, since I’d redirect to 3rd/Pike in some cases. With OBA I’d have to check two different stops, though, and TransitScreen looks like it would put all my info in one place.

        One might say that having so many mediocre choices instead of one great one doesn’t say much good about our transit system… but I did the same sort of thing when I lived in Uptown in Chicago (where I chose between LSD express buses and the L by looking at traffic out my 9th-story window).

    3. This works for 24 and 33 in parts of Magnolia as well. From King Street Station sometimes it is faster to take the 24 and walk at the Magnolia end, and sometimes it is faster to walk several blocks north and get the 33 instead.

      It would be helpful to at least have a basic arrival times. I don’t know about trying to construct various routing options out of several different routes.

      As best as I have been able to figure out, since I am not a daily OneBusAway user, there is no way to get two different stops to show up in the results. At least with the web interface it is possible to have two different windows open to see when two or more services arrive.

    4. I don’t know about everyone else, but I have my home commute pretty solidly figured out. Usually, the additional information I need is auto traffic information, to know which bus to take.

      When I’d find this useful is nights and weekends; where I’d find them useful is not office building lobbies, but on the streets, e.g. 3rd.

      Here’s an actual gap in my mobility-life: when I’m trying to plan, I often want probabilities of availability. ‘What’s the chance + confidence there’s a car2go within 3 blocks of 17th and Aloha on Sunday morning?’ ‘What’s my expected wait for a Lyft / Uber at (location, time) — at what price (surge multiplier?)’?

    5. Here’s my example:

      I live in Lake City; I’m on the corner of 2nd/Cherry.If the StreetView is available and broadcasting on that corner, I can:

      1. either go up the hill to 3rd or over to the 2nd Ave entrance into the DSTT for a 41, preferably a 41 Lake City. But it would be very nice to see whether in the sea of 41NE125ths, there is a 41Lake City.

      2. go up the hill to 4th and over to the 4th/James stop for a 522 or 312.

      The choices fluctuate for me depending on errands that I’ve run, errands that I’m going to run, rain, dark, cranky joints, what day it is (holiday schedule or Fridays are usually lighter).

      I’d love to throw consistent, on-time reporting into the mix.

      And for all of you who have a routine, aren’t cha annoyed by a questioner playing 20 questions of the bus driver?

  12. Page 2 post idea. Go down to the Muni building at 5 PM some weekday. Count the number of people who stop to look at the TransitScreen. Then report back to us. Does it appear to be a popular, useful tool? Or are people ignoring it? I’d also like it if you interviewed a few people while you are there. Ask them if they take public transit home. And why, or why didn’t they, check the screen?

  13. I don’t think anyone expects this to be the end all, be all for transportation information for every single person in Seattle, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

    Let’s also not overlook that not everyone has a smartphone or remembers to check each day before they leave their office. What if a conversation with a colleague in the elevator delays your exit by 5 mins? This screen would be the last thing you look at before you exit the building.

    In addition to lobby displays / SmartWalk, TransitScreen does make the same data available on desktops and mobile phones. I see a use case for each one.

  14. Not just a common visual vocabulary. How about a few more things that should be common:

    The format for schedules – printed or online
    The websites for information
    The fare structure
    Transfer policies

    Putting aside the intercounty issues for a second, given that Metro and Sound Transit provide a lot of overlapping and interconnected service within King County, it is insane that we have total duplication of effort and policies in so many areas. Not only is it administratively hugely wasteful, it is actually value-destructive in that we are spending our tax money to manufacture unnecessary complexity.

    There should be a single signage standard, website, fare and transfer policy, schedule format, etc. It should be set by a single policy board. Period.

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