Strætó, Reykjavík’s oft-maligned bus company, has improved its service over the past few years. Buses run later, more frequently, and are on-time more often. The late-night weekend service has made partying much easier (and cheaper) for us suburbanites. This has happened despite the Independence Party’s instinctual aversion to any sort of collective action. This steady string of improvements and a rather flattering picture of myself on their social media has not made my commute less stressful. It is anxiety-inducing, as the system does not accommodate the blind and visually impaired.
The biggest problem is figuring out which bus is which. At stops with many lines there is no way to identify the right vehicle. If I am alone at a stop, which I often am in this sprawling car-crazy city, I must ask every driver which number their bus is. This means flagging down half a dozen buses and delaying scores of fellow riders. Thankfully fellow passengers are willing to help or at least try. One time, while waiting at a particularly busy stop, I asked the woman next to me which bus it was in Icelandic. She was on holiday from North America, so I repeated in English only to get the reply: “The yellow one”. This vague answer made me laugh because all of Strætó’s buses are yellow. I missed my particular yellow bus that day. Most missed buses aren’t as amusing.
Fortunately, solutions are available and some are fairly simple and inexpensive. Most buses have audio announcements of stops, transfer points, and reminders to take your personal belongings. However, this system is often turned off or turned down. This can make finding the right stop difficult and stressful. Ensuring the system is reliable is a simple first step.
It would not help in identifying the correct bus to begin with, but there are other options there. Buses in one US city are equipped with speakers on the outside of the bus that would announce the number and direction; this would be quite helpful when multiple buses stop at the same time. In Norway, bus stops have live screens that have an optional audio function. Reykjavík is updating its bus shelters this year and could take this opportunity to include us.
Visually impaired people are similarly out of luck when it comes to Strætó’s mobile app since it does not support screen readers. Hopefully a future update can rectify that.