Monday 6 August 2012

To Travel Hopefully [1]

Robert Louis Stevenson [RLS] and National Rail
In one of  his lesser know essays, RLS wrote these words:- "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive." He was, sadly, writing about the journey of life and not about an unsuccessful train trip. Indeed, most rail passengers would consider it essential that they should arrive, and preferably arrive at their chosen destinations rather than somewhere completely different.

A few years ago, fbb was invited to a meeting with George Muir ...
... then Director General of ATOC (The Association of Train Operating Companies). fbb and team were invited to submit proposals for providing onward travel information from stations via bus to places not served by train. A report was prepared, duly delivered and received with much enthusiasm.

Then, nothing. It appeared that the whole project was filed under a ATD category. Linking train with bus was deemed "All Too Difficult". The big problem, it appeared, was that these nasty bus operators would keep on changing their timetables, so how could the information ever be kept up to date?
Sour grapes?

fbb and team were well paid for their work but their realism and honesty probably scuppered any chance of a long term contract. The computer is king, the database is "gospel" and anything that can be automatically created and updated is far, far preferable to accuracy.

Recent blogs have focussed on the current crop of "onward journey" pages on the National Rail web site and the accompanying station posters. Posts have referred to problems galore at Northampton (read again), Honiton, Salisbury with a passing mention of Poole in a blog comment from Ken Traveline-Dorset (read again). So the chubby and possibly pedantic one felt it was time to examine thus "useful service" in some detail.

The pages can be found on the National Rail [NR] web site ...
... by clicking on this button.
Because fbb used ti live there, and beacuse there is plenty of opportunity to arrive by train and "enjoy" onwards journeys by bus, fbb wil examine the entry for Sheffield.
Here we can enter the station name ...
... and access everything possible about that station.
So where is the "onward journey" information?


You have to click the highly obvious "local area maps" line of text. You would certainly look here first if you wanted bus information, wouldn't you?

Wouldn't you?
There are three choices, the top one being automatically displayed. It shows a map ...
... which requires further investigation. It also shows a mysterious logo "ito!" and there is a link to this company lower down on the ATOC page.
National Rail Enquiries use ITO ...

... Travel Plans to provide onward journey information for every railway station in Great Britain. Integrating our local area maps and transport information into their website, enables them to provide information to over 100,000 visitors per month with seamless automatic updates.
High quality passenger information is essential to maintain and increase patronage of sustainable transport but producing publicity materials is often a time consuming and inefficient exercise.
Too true, buster! It IS very time consuming if you want to get it right.
We make it painless to publish engaging materials with a comprehensive online solution for sustainable transport information, across all formats: print, web and mobile. An integrated information suite that automatically updates materials, allowing you to publish in a timely manner with an efficient management process.
If all this is true, easily updatable information can be efficiently achieved.

But fbb has come across this company before. See "Information is Power [1]" (read again) and "Information is Power [2]"  (read again) .

So tomorrow we see how well ATOC hasn't succeeded.

 Conclusion Number 1 
"Onward Journey" information is almost a secret on the National Rail web site : our ever perceptive blog readers might, in passing, just wonder why.
 Next Blog : Tuesday 7th August 


  1. "So where is the "onward journey" information?


    You have to click the highly obvious "local area maps" line of text. You would certainly look here first if you wanted bus information, wouldn't you?"

    Well, I understand what you are saying, but... given the rather small range of options, it probably is the most logical choice. I would say that it is not exactly 'intuitive', but is the closest of the five possible options.

    The Deutsche Bahn website tends to have a lot more options in similar circumstances, which tends, inevitably, to make it less intuitive. A couple of years ago they introduced a feature entitled 'Is my train punctual?' which, initially, at least, was buried deep in somewhere not exactly intuitive - however, they have improved it since then.

    Of course if the information produced falls into the GIGO category, then we have another problem.... I guess you will be telling us tomorrow, but, given the involvement of a third party, I think I can already imagine what it will be!

  2. Yep, RC 169, brace yourself for some real horrors!

  3. Steve,Southampton6 August 2012 at 20:47

    Thought I would look for onward travel for my rail station,Southampton Central. As you say clicking on local area maps gives some help but the destinations listed for each route under bus stops are very poor/inaccurate and no operator is shown for routes. Lower down the page from the local area maps links is the heading 'bus services' which gives a link to a totally out of date list of routes for each destination although the small print suggests it is updated weekly!

  4. Again, stay with us and all will be revealed.

  5. Not only that, but the information about bus services - and particularly when they run, and how often - is very much less useful (if superficially more comprehensible - although generally misleadingly so) than it used to be, too...