Metro Transit, the transit agency for the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, creates printed pocket-sized folded schedules for all of their routes. Large quantities of signage and schedules for transit shelters are also produced, all in Adobe InDesign.

As the transit system grew to include not only bus routes but also bus rapid transit, trains, and light rail, manual layout of all of these printed materials was tedious, time-consuming, and error prone. I consulted with designers, planners, and IT staff at Metro Transit to help them automate the production of these various materials.

To help them automate the production of the pocket schedules, I created a series of InDesign scripts. Since the page sizes and layout of the pocket schedules vary greatly depending on the size and number of timetables, we focused our efforts on helping the designers produce the various pieces of the schedules automatically, leaving the layout of the pieces on the pages up to the designer.

A completed pocket schedule, unfolded. Page size: 15" x 21".

The automated workflow:

  1. The designer visits a Metro Transit intranet page and chooses a route number.
  2. The Web server returns an XML file of all of the data associated with that route.
A few lines of an XML file created from on-line data, ready for placement in InDesign.
  1. The designer double-clicks on the custom “Import route data” script in the InDesign Scripts panel to import the XML file into InDesign and prepare it for processing.
  1. The designer runs one or more of seven additional scripts to place fully formatted map legends, park and ride lists, serving lists, or timetables on the schedule.
  2. The script manipulates the XML data as necessary, putting items in the correct order, applying character, paragraph, object, cell, and table styles, adding icons where needed, etc.
  3. The resulting page item is fully formatted and ready to arrange on the page where desired.

The end result is pocket schedules produced and updated much more quickly, with much higher accuracy than previously possible.