What should buses look and ride like in 2050?

“Some compelling eco-friendly and even unorthodox answers to that question are emerging via a team of designers from one of the most advanced and influential transportation design schools in the world [Art Center College of Design] who, in tandem with Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus [the city’s bus line], are taking part in a project to create a ‘big picture’ vision of the next generation of transit” says Big Blue Bus spokesman Dan Dawson.

A key goal of the collaboration is to begin a thought-provoking and ongoing dialogue between the transit industry and the public regarding how to evolve transit design into creating vehicles that are more progressive, meaningful and pleasurable to use, Dawson says.

“We need bold new visions of where transit can ultimately go, so that we can engage the public and make transit a desirable and regular part of people’s lives,” said Stephanie Negriff, director of transit services for the Big Blue Bus. “We’re hoping through this innovative partnership with Art Center College of Design that we can help inspire not only the public’s imagination, but also provide fresh new ideas and solutions for the country’s bus manufacturers to seriously consider.”

An interactive aspect of the project is the blog that the public can use to interact directly with the design team, www.BusOfTheFuture.com/.

The blog includes polling questions, progress reports written by the design students themselves, rough sketches of the concept vehicles and an area where people can post messages and comments.

According to Negriff, the idea for this collaboration came about when her agency was researching options for new buses to purchase.

“As we looked around at what was available, it became clear that although bus technology has rapidly improved, bus design is still lagging behind,” she said. “That’s something that definitely needs to change. Buses today look pretty much like they did 50 years ago, and I think the industry is aware that to encourage the public to ride more and drive less, tomorrow’s buses will need to be sleek and sexy, environmentally friendly, customized for maximum comfort and responsive to all the different ways people want to use transit.”

The design team from Art Center College of Design includes Geoff Wardle, director of Advanced Mobility Research and associate chair of Graduate Industrial Design; and design students Mike Peterson, Gabriel Wartofsky and Giuseppe Filippone.

“Art Center is very committed to exploring, researching, defining and designing the very best transportation solutions for tomorrow’s world,” said Wardle, “so it is very appropriate for us to be partnering with the Big Blue Bus on this visionary Bus of the Future project.”

Wardle emphasized the importance of developing urban environments and transportation systems hand in hand so that day-to- day mobility becomes seamless, comfortable, convenient, accessible and stress-free.

“The greatest challenge with all public transportation systems is to ensure that passengers feel in complete control of their journeys so they can travel at times completely convenient to them, and relax and enjoy their experience,” said Wardle.

The best way to ensure this, he said, is to bring professional transportation designers into the equation at a very early stage.

“Designers understand what people respond to and how to make the total experience compelling,” Wardle said. “Buses should be as exciting as cars to ride in.”

The first phase of the project involved research by the design team, including riding around the Los Angeles-area on various bus lines and asking passengers what they liked — and didn’t like — about riding the bus.

They found that people were happy to share their thoughts, concerns and opinions about their experiences in riding on public transportation, the Big Blue Bus, and with transportation issues in general.

According to Wardle, the three student designers have a passion for transportation in all its forms.

“Historically, we feel that buses have not received as much passion in their design as other forms of transportation,” he said. “That must change if we are to encourage more people to use them as part of their everyday lives.”

The project — announced at the Big Blue Bus’s 80th anniversary celebration in April — is scheduled for completion at the end of August. The designers are expected to create six conceptual versions of the “Bus of the Future,” including three 3-D models, to demonstrate how people might travel in the future.

Other project elements will reportedly include animation of a ride experience from a passenger’s point of view and a video chronicling the life span of the project. The 3-D models are to be judged by a panel of transportation and design experts at AltCar Expo in Santa Monica on September 26th.