Monday, 23 August 2010

Isn't Technology Wonderful?

It's good that the computer age gives us access to huge amounts of information.   We have journey planners, bus company web sites and local authority resources all available free of charge on-line.   But is it a real improvement?  The picture below was taken by fbb in 1971, almost THIRTY years ago and slightly before the extermination of the dinosaurs as far as computer geeks are concerned.

What does the picture show?

There is (left) a route map showing all bus services in the Sheffield area.

Then comes a fare table book for all buses operated by Sheffield Transport - and that was almost everything in and from the City.   With it (darker red colour) is a staff instruction booklet - not available to the public.  (All the other publications were on sale at modest prices - although those shown were a gift from STD.)   Incidentally, for the real transport "hairies", the fare tables were published in September 1970 with pre- and post- decimalisation fares; the latter which came into force from Sunday 22nd February 1971.

Finally there is a handy pocket-sized timetable book - again with all buses in and to the City, plus a summary of all local and long distance rail services and longer distance coaches.

How does this compare with today?   BADLY!   None of these excellent publications has a present-day equivalent.

I can obtain a map of First routes, accurate and up to date BUT with an incomplete diagram of City Centre stops.
Only the most frequent services are shown; the rest simply don't exist.   Likewise I can download a map of Stagecoach routes which seems OK but has no details of where the buses actually stop in the Centre.  But the routes of the other many smaller operators remain a cartographical secret.

There is no useful source of fares; with First telling me that prices range from 85p to £3.50 but with no guidance as to how much travel that buys.   Likewise, Stagecoach only gives rudimentary details of its prices.   A bit like a notice at the entrance to Tesco; saying, we sell stuff priced from 30p up to £400 but we'll only tell you what price each product is AFTER you've bought it.   Think about it!

I can obtain leaflets from the excellent enquiry offices in the centre of Sheffield but no outlet has a full set so I would have to go to Meadowhall enquiry office, for example, to obtain a leaflet for service 5  from there into Rotherham.   Of course I can download timetables at my own expense and, for anything other than a single enquiry, at considerable time cost.

Once upon a time each leaflet contained a useful map of the route(s) concerned.   Now we get a very basic line diagram, often with misleading locality names and locations; a most unreliable and, frankly, pointless guide!The example above shows the Travel South Yorkshire "map" for service 11, 11A and 12 at the top and reality below. Of course there is a full list of roads served (not always accurate) but no list of which roads have stops on them.  So you need a street map and a lot of detailed perusal to find where the buses might actually go.

What is even more sad is that South Yorkshire (together with the other former PTA areas) is one of the best.   In most places it is well nigh impossible to find even a single leaflet unless you can find one of the rapidly disappearing enquiry offices.

And in London you are simply not allowed to have any timetables at all - anywhere, even on line!  And don't even bother to try to find a timetable on the National Express Coaches web site, 'cos they aren't there.

What is needed is a National Bus Timetable Library with EVERYTHING available.    Then individuals, libraries, stations, bus enquiry offices, tourist information centres (etc. etc.) can download and photocopy anything that their customers may need.   The technology exists [try www.] and, for a modest fee and unlimited tea and buns, fat bus bloke will organise it!

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