Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Tosh for Terminating Timetable Troubles

g News : Breaking News : Breaking News : Breaking New
Stagecoach has announced that it is buying First's Wigan depot, buses and operation. It will be integrated into the Stagecoach Manchester company.
More in due course.
Back to today's debate
The curse of electronic registration.
A couple of weeks back, fbb was railing against Travel South Yorkshire for reneging on its promise their leaflet publicity better with the massive Sheffield Partnership re-organisation (read again). One long term beef is the appalling presentation of the service 88 (and former service 83) to Bents Green ...
... with a fake and meaningless terminus at Banner Cross. This produces a daft set of results throughout the TSY system.

The blog produced some challenging responses, some of which are quoted below. One commentator suggests that fbb's arrogance was misplaced and the system was working perfectly:-

On this occasion it would appear that fbb needs to rush off to Amazon and buy a copy of Electronic Bus Service Registrations [EBSR] for Dummies. Stagecoach have been a leading promoter of EBSR and indeed, throughout the country all of their bus service registrations are supplied in this format to VOSA, PTEs and LTAs; no paper copies at all.

 fbb has contacts in various bus companies, PTEs and Local Authorities and the off-the-record attitude to electronic registrations is that it is (a) a disaster and (b) involves far too much work. Certainly fbb's previous blog on the subject showed how unnecessarily complex and over engineered the system is.
One of the widely stated reasons for doing this was because they wanted to remain as ‘owners’ of their data and have it presented in the format they supplied it in.

If this is the case, why do some Stagecoach printed timetables show loop journey correctly and sensibly?

The idea that Stagecoach wants to present timetables in a way which confuses and misleads the public is so farcical as to be hardly worth considering. The more likely explanation is that nobody bothers to think.

Take a look at the Stagecoach Yorkshire website, check out the current 83 and 88 timetables (the new ones are not available yet) and ‘Hey Presto!’ the journeys on their own timetables terminate at Brincliffe Edge Road, Banner Cross. It would appear that the good people at SYPTE are merely carrying out Stagecoach’s wishes.

There is no obligation, in law, for any bus company to produce a printed timetable. There is no reason why SYPTE should publish drivel, just because Stagecoach chooses to output it from their weird and badly programed confuser system. Once upon a time, it was a requirement for every bus to carry a copy of the fare table and the timetable for that journey. This presumably no longer applies as fares are hidden deep in the bowels of electronic ticket machines.

Stagecoach are correct. EBSR cannot handle loops per-se, because the duplication of information required would otherwise legally commit an operator to run duplicate journeys, (as is strictly the case with many paper registrations...except bureaucracy appears to make allowance for these aberations on paper registrations whilst the guidelines specifically bar them in electronic ones).

It is clearly a non sense to even suggest that common sense can be pushed aside by some poorly designed piece of electronics.  There is absolutely no electronic reason why a simple piece of code can't be written which allows "the system" to ignore duplicated information on terminal loops for (supposedly) legal purposes. Likewise an instruction to suppress duplicate data could solve the problems of "real time" displays. It could be written by a reasonably competent schoolboy.

Therefore, to produce decent timetables from an EBSR file requires manual editing ...

What a terrible shame. How absolutely awful to expect a human being to edit and produce a timetable page for the use of other human beings. If this happened, the timetable might be (a) right and (b) useful to the passenger. That would never do!

... something that everybody took for granted wouldn't be the case. However, the advantages to downstream users such as RTI providers, PTI sites etc etc (in terms of easy access to stop-specific information) by far outweigh the disadvantages.

So here is an example from the new Sheffield Network showing all the advantages (?) of over-prescriptive electronic registration.

The new 83 has a large terminal loop from Ecclesall, anti-clockwise via Silverdale Road (previously unserved by bus) and Dobcroft Road to Millhouses. The buses then return via Springfield Road, roughly replacing previous route 4 (hourly) with a much enhanced 20 minute frequency.
The printed and on-line timetable offers no help with the route and simply terminates journeys at Millouses. To continue round the loop you need to look up the reverse-direction tables.

And if you try to extract a Traveline journey  from Silverdale Road (half way down the left hand road on the one way loop) ...

... to Sheffield Centre, you get this sort of answer:-
A 14 minute walk to frequent services at Ecclesall. The through bus takes longer so is ignored. Other options involve a change to a service 97 or 98 bus at Millhouses and thus the direct route into City. Because the loop is not shown "correctly" the burden of a 20 minute wait at Millhouses for the next 83 means that a sensible through trip on one bus is never found. [unless Ken Traveline-Dorset can make it happen!]

Of course, if you were to use the xephos system ...
The clever programing offers a choice of the through journey by service 83 or ...
... a change at Millhouses. With properly managed data, it can be shown properly.

And at some time or other in the future it won't be optional - there will be no paper registrations; kudos then to Stagecoach for getting in on the ground floor ...

... and making life difficult for everybody!

Sorry that this blog has been a bit technical, so here is a nice picture of days gone by when ...
... timetables were simple and stable and you could ring up a man at the office who would tell you exactly what you wanted to know. And it would be right because "the man" would be a regular bus user who would be taught where and when the buses run.

See also Partnership Proposals Promulgated [2] (read again)
See also Partnership Proposals Promulgated [3] (read again)

 Next Blog : Thursday 1st November 


  1. 2 comments.
    1. Where does that second bus at Waggon & Horses come from in Xephos? Owhere does the first one hide for 2 minutes.
    2. As a non-professional, I often look at N&P on the VOSA website. It tells me very little. In fact it often leads me to think a route has been withdrawn when it is a change of registration and a new, almost identical, route appears. Are the electronically submitted details available to Joe Public who are, I believe, "stakeholders" in bus services? Or is it yet another case of the powerful, be they government or operators, holding on to their data?

  2. FBB, it would appear that you have very many 'hobby horses' when it comes to information provision and in some cases, where an LTA makes no effort whatsoever to assist the public with information relating to the services available, it is quite correct that you select them for ridicule. What you never, ever do is consider those who might be doing their level best to 'do the right thing' as regards information provision. At present many of them (be they publicly funded PTEs, LTAs or the individuals working within them), are suffering from massive and constant cuts to funding, leading to job losses and situations where information has to be processed by the most efficient means possible - usually involving IT systems and far fewer people. I would imagine that constant berating from a self-indulgent and at times extremely misguided individual such as you are, dosen't do a great deal for their morale. Why not ask some of you "various contacts" you purport to have how things really are in the industry at present and do a few 'home truths' on your blog? They might just explain some of the things you complain about....

  3. I am more than aware how things are in the industry and am in regular contact with some of the hard pressed folk you refer to. The "keen" ones are very supportive of my blogs and some of them send material for inclusion. The costs of providing good and correct information are no greater (and often less) that is currently being spent on poor systems like electronic regulation. For example. the (failed) xephos system could deliver a prefectly adequate and accurate national journey planner for about £2 million pounds annually. The cost of Transport Defunct and Traveline is neither published nor calculated but must be in the region of £100 million a year all-told. The only people who get frustrated by my blogs are those who simply don't understand are don't care. I both understand and care. The people who know how bad things are are generally ignored by management

    The answer is NOT technology, it is people who know where the buses run and seek to communicate it. They may use technology but, sadly, most technology uses (or abuses) people.

    Clearly my blogs have touched a sore nerve with an anonymous Anonymous - bit it's the wrong nerve. Nothing that I write precludes getting information RIGHT be it manually OR electronically.

  4. Your commentator is incorrect that this is down to EBSR (though Stagecoach do use this) as we have a similar issue and still submit paper registrations, or that there is an allowance at VOSA over overlapping loops (though VOSA inspectors would probably use common sense when checking routes) for paper copies, it is just something people don't think about normally. The issue is the rise of computerised scheduling systems which are integrated from timetable design to duty board production & duty rota design. These can't handle overlapping journeys without errors preventing duty compilation and produce this result, however there are benefits to the customer as using these systems where once the timetable is designed it automatically flows through to the schedules as it helps to end the problem of journeys being forgotten and not covered (I have experienced that on manually compiled systems with double-covered or uncovered work) as it is a 10-second check for uncovered work instead of an hour checking every journey individually so schedules changes produce less compilation errors so the chaos of changeover day is lessened.

    All this means is it requires a bit of manual checking of your publicity before production (something that should be happening anyway surely) and these anomalys being added where needed, as someone involved in that for my employers (not involved in Sth Yorks) we can sometimes forget but there is a little metaphorical fbb sat on my shoulder reminding to check these things most of the time.

    Traveline is a little different due to the computerised nature of the data accessing by the general public but there must be someway of showing a through journey like this, otherwise how do they handle all the advertised through journeys broken up due to EU drivers hours?

    Probably part of the problem on the 3rd party (such as SYPTE) produced tt is that the people involved don't know what actually is intended to happen and straight copy what is supplied (and if it is checked at the operator it is not checked by the person who knows) whereas the operator may have involvement of the timetable compiler who can raise these issues. Whilst in this case it may be a simple issue it is not always as clear as it would appear, my employer has a route with a loop at one end of a route and a sort of loop at the other but not every bus that terminates on the loop does the full loop and returns and not every bus starting on the loop starts at the beginning of the loop but start/finish in the middle of the loop where the continue as a different service. Likewise the sort of loop at the other end can be taken in both directions and most journeys do part of the loop before continuing elsewhere. It is about involving the right people when checking the timetables and organisations like SYPTE won't have access to those people as they work for the bus companies and aren't always the easiest to get in contact with (schedulers and timetable compilers aren't as a rule known for their interpersonal skills).

  5. Hi .Lovr reading your varied and interesting blog.Your comments on time table info at termini reminds me that in the fifties there was a large board as you entered Norwich bus station which listed every departure in chronological a very young man then I was very impressed. regards