Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Information is Power [2]

Cost Saving Computer Systems

Inspired by an article in "Passenger Transport", fbb has been giving a system produced by "ito". See "Information is Power [1]" (read again) and Norfolk County Council's Video (here). As well as NCC, the software package is also used by East Yorkshire Motor Services. EYMS is owned and run by Peter Shipp ...
... not renowned for being publicity shy!

The article reports that EYMS approached "ito" when Humberside Council opted out of roadside publicity and lumbered the company with about 2000 timetable frames to fill. So a sample is shown for a stop on Anlaby Road, this stop in fact.
Not particularly inspiring but opposite Hull Railway Station ...
... better viewed from the inside where the new Paragon Bus Station has been provided, linked to part of this huge terminal building.
Back to Anlaby Road, where EYMS and "ito" have produced a departures poster. It does appear to be reasonably correct, unlike the Norfolk offering examined yesterday. It is too big to blog, but here is what it looks like.
The top section is a simple destination list for each route serving the stop, with a list of departures in time order below; all very neat and tidy, all very impressive, especially if you are leaning at 45 degrees, wacko-Jacko style.
BUT, is it useful?

The route diagrams are all separated by route number, even if, for example, the 35A is a minor variant of the 35. Surely these routes should be grouped together; shown as one service?
Likewise the X55, X56 and X57 offer a common route between Hull and Elloughton, before splitting. Surely they should be shown as one "mini network" on a bus stop diagram?
Then, for the list of departures shown below the route diagrams, everything is mixed up and in time order. Does the passenger really want to plough through all this when he only wants confirmation of the next 153?

There is a way of providing this grouping of services, clearly showing different routes after the split, and minor evening and Sunday variants.  It's called a "timetable".

Assuming space is available (and it is at Anlaby Road, on the inside of the shelter), why not post enlarged copies of timetable pages? Together with a map of services, they can be assembled with a pot of glue and a pair of scissors. It is a helpful source of bus stop information. Somebody should try it.

Talking of cost effective solutions, here is an example of information provided in 1964 by "Total 'Your Passenger Information System' Technology", or a "typist". 
This is how Mavis did it nearly 50 years ago on her Remington typewriter.
She would simply type departure times on a pre-printed quarto sheet of paper. This was then posted by Frank at the bus stops. The same page was reduced in size for the little timetable book.
O.K., these are only departure lists, not the more useful timetables; but Northampton routes were all typically short so it was never a very long journey. Note, incidentally, that most routes were more frequent on Saturday than on Monday to Friday; and more frequent until late in the evening. And we either went to church or stayed in bed on Sunday mornings.

The same little booklet contained fare tables (in the old money, of course) ...
... and even a rudimentary but easily understood route map.
The sad fact is that, despite huge advances in printing, design and IT, publicity was far better in 1964 than it is in 2012. Name any town where fbb could pick up a booklet today; with fares, timetable and route maps?

O.K., the Corporation's book did not include services run by United Counties to villages-cum-suburbs like Hardingstone and Duston; for those you needed the UC network book priced at one shilling. And rural bus companies rarely published fare tables so it wasn't utterly ideal, but still better than today.

The problem is that we have become "conned" into using computer software because we can, not because we need to. However splendid the "ito" stuff may be, even if it happens to be right, it is not necessarily delivering what the passenger actually needs.

Is it?
fbb is greatly indebted to his Northampton correspondent,
Alan, for sending him the scans of the NCT timetable book.

 Next Blog : due Friday February 17th 


  1. I know you enjoy a bit of nostalgia, but I’m not sure that’s any excuse for your reference to Humberside Council in the blog – as it was abolished in 1996. It is East Riding of Yorkshire Council which has stopped providing roadside information.

    Not that this is of any relevance in this particular case, as the stop at Anlaby Road is clearly in the Hull City Council area. It also may not be the best example for demonstrating the ease of use of information displays as it is served by between 35 and 40 buses per hour (typically 24 EYMS, 9 Stagecoach and 5 HCT Park & Ride) - so there is always going to be a lot of information to put across.

    You ask – “why not post enlarged copies of timetable pages ?”. For a start, there would be 12 separate (combined) timetables to look through and many passengers would need to consult more than one to find the time of their next bus. For example, for Hessle you could use the 57 or 66, for Boothferry Estate the 1A, 1C, 2(Stagecoach) or 66, for Willerby the 35, 151 or 154, for Castle Hill Hospital the 64 or 154 and for North Ferriby the 153 or 155. Very few, if any, people would specifically want to know the time of the next 153 – as it only runs every hour and anyone going or returning to Swanland would know the times already.

    This begs the question of whether an EYMS-only timetable is really appropriate at this stop - as for many locations you’d have the choice between EYMS and Stagecoach so would really need to see both of them in the list.

  2. Oh mea culpa! The shame and the ignominy. fbb, hoist with his own pedant's petard! I have sat on the naughty step and missed my pudding in repentance. The reference was, I think, to East Yorkshire County Council.

    You counter to posting timetables is valid, of course. (I dare not opine otherwise!) but IF people know the times before they go to the bus stop ... they why bother posting anything?

    Many many people do not know the times (indeed finding out times is much harder now) and even with less frequent services will turn up and hope. Maybe nip off for a quick "latte" and come back. (maybe on Anlaby Road a cuppa and a wad)

    I will still maintain with my dying breath (well, not quite) that the best "compromise" is timetable pages. After all it worked for over 60 years before we had to have our lives rules by Bill Gates' convoluted software!

    Of course, you still have to keep them up to date!