Thursday, November 27, 2008

Calgary musings

Customer service made me cynical

On the Calgary C-Train, the old U2 rolling stock does not use electronic displays for its destination signs. There is not always enough room on those signs to display the full name of a station. For example, on the U2 cars, "Somerset-Bridlewood" is indicated by a destination sign that reads "Somerset."

One day last year, before the McKnight-Westwinds C-Train station opened, I was posting on the skyscraperpage.com forum. Knowing that the old U2 cars would not have enough room for the name "McKnight-Westwinds," I commented that Calgary Transit would be better off to use "McKnight" than "Westwinds" on the U2 destination signs. I felt that this should be done because to do otherwise would result in the bizarre situation of having a destination sign that says "Westwinds" on an eastbound train.

The lurking pedants jumped all over this. "But a 'west wind' travels from the west to the east!" they wrote. "Besides, it's just a name! You're a dumbass!"

Really? I'm afraid that they are making a big assumption: the assumption that an arbitrary member of the public comprehends the meaning of "west wind" and understands that the name of a destination does not correspond to the direction that the vehicle is travelling. Having worked in customer service, I believe that this assumption is false.

I strongly believe that the best to make life easier for humanity, whether it is signage, directions, instructions, or user interfaces, is to try our damnedest to eliminate any possible causes for confusion, no matter how remote they seem. Considering that many people can't even point out west from east, it is a recipe for disaster to put cardinal directions (or names containing cardinal directions) on transit signs. It just leaves too much room for confusion, especially for people who aren't familiar with the city or with the transit system. That's the segment of the population that the signs help the most.

It appears that Calgary Transit agreed with me. I had heard from a C-Train operator that "Westwinds" signs had already been manufactured prior to the opening of McKnight-Westwinds station. Once the station was commissioned, those U2 destination signs read "McKnight."

Aaron: 1
Pedants: 0


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