Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Travesty of Timetable Technology

Here We Go Again
Without boring on again, this blog takes it as read that getting hold of an accurate and comprehensible bus timetable in Sheffield is a challenge. The PTE produces nothing in print and its on-line stuff is riddled with errors. The operators have produced a variety of leaflets in different styles and, again, they are barely and aide-memoire as they lack detail and add confusion.

Time to do a live test.

As a recent meeting with Sheffield bus high-ups, fbb issued a very practical challenge.

All the contenders had to do was to answer this question.

What time is the first service 51 after 12 noon from Lodge Moor?
For those not familiar with the geography of Sheffield, service 51 runs from a turning circle on the west of the city ...
... seen here at the Celebrations for 100 years of the route. The 51 then runs via the city every ten minutes to Gleadless and Charnock.

Two technologies were tested. The hi-tech First Bus app ...
... and a 1983 timetable book.
The book was in the hands of a senior Stagecoach executive who, with no hesitation found service 51 and the journey in question. The big boss-type man admitted later, "if a book existed today, it would be in my desk drawer and I would use it."


The other contender was a First Bus manager who had the app installed on his phone. As an "expert user" you would expect some slick phone tip-tapping and a prompt reply. An inexpert app user might have to jump through more electronic hoops than fbb's test person.

The App answer was, of course, correct.
1208 from Lodge Moor; 1235 in city. Spookily the answer from 1983 was ...
... 1208 from Lodge Moor, 1235 in City. Still the same timings? Well, not exactly. The 1983 City was further into the centre than today's time point. Today's 51 just grazes the central area whilst the 1983 route took buses into the currently clogged Arundel Gate "interchange" area.

Old technology (the timetable book) won hands down.

The inexpert senior manager took 24 seconds to find the 1208. The expert app applier took 57 seconds! How easy would it have been without the gift information of the service number as a starter? Not easy at all app-wise. You might have found the following necessary.

1. Choose which bit of First Bus you wanted to "approach". That would be South Yorkshire, not simply Sheffield.

2. Scroll through all First's routes hoping to spot Lodge Moor.

3. Choose a date (why?) and set it.

4. Choose a time (why?) and set it.

The book user looks at an alphabetical index and that is all.

Surely technology (with simulated screenshots) ought to allow you to search for "Lodge Moor" ...
... and go straight to the day's departures.
Then tap on the time required (a standard Android procedure) ...
... and go straight to the 1208 journey.
That should be even faster than the book.

There is strong anecdotal evidence that what most passengers want is a timetable, and preferably a printed one. They do NOT want to faff around wwith twiddly web sites and complicated and confusing journey planners. What they get is a less than helpful app from First (try finding a timetable from, say, Crimicar Lane top to East Bank Road, or a trawl through the PTE web site or the First Bus ditto to print our page after page of A4 paper.

Bring back the timetable book and, again, four rousing cheers for T M Travel for doing just that.

 Next Oxfordshire blog : Thursday 24th March  
Easter Lamb : Lamb of Passover
A strange paint job?
We are in about 1200BC. God's people are enslaved in Egypt and beg God to release them. In a battle of wit and will a series of nine "(super)natural disasters" literally plagued Egypt. The last, leader Moses reveals, will be the death of the oldest child and the oldest animal.

But God's people would be protested. One lamb per household was sacrificed and the blood used to paint a protective splodge on doorposts and lintel of each house. Then the "Angel of Death" would pass over. The lamb would be the last "square meal" before escape.

The shed blood of the sacrificed lamb saved the people. The lamb gave the people strength for their journey.


  1. Controversal I know, but other than from bus bashers, publicity collectors or bus company types I see no great clamour for timetable books.

    Companies would be better placed actually creating publicity and putting it somewhere easy to get. Not from behind a desk at a library where you have to ask or in a locked room only open Mon to Fri 9-2.

  2. The forgotten commercial bonus of a comprehensive timetable book is that is makes additional non-standard journeys possible. Anon's point is, of course valid, but with "the book" in the top drawer at home, extra bus trips are easy.
    To borrow a phrase from elsewhere, "every little helps"!!

  3. Surely the answer is you have to do all of it?

    Despite fbb's anecdotal evidence, there is a huge weight of expectation from customers and potential customers to be able to find out information via apps and websites, and even if the technology doesn't always handle this perfectly it simply isn't an option to ignore this demand. Instead we must do all we can to embrace this need and improve and refine the systems to cope.

    However, while the demand for printed information has declined fairly sharply in recent years, there are still many who rely on a book or a leaflet (or both) to plan their travel and we ignore this audience at our peril!

    My view is we have to back both horses, and i agree with the post above that printed information has to be as widely available as possible.

    And thanks for the kind comments about the book. It has been very well received - we struggled to keep up with demand the week it came out - but it's far from perfect still and we have plenty of ideas to improve our printed offer further.

    1. Quite agree with all these comments!

      We still need to supply information via printed material for some time longer, as there are still passengers who either cannot access the web or simply don't understand how to! Whilst the latter group will wither away as time goes along, they are still a substantial minority, and we must include them.

      My worry is that companies (and LTA's) see making information on the web only as a way to save money. My company makes both available, and comments from passengers at open events is always "thank goodness you still produce a booklet". Yes, there is a cost, and yes it needs updating at appropriate times, but we still need to do it.

      Stagecoach seem to (generally) manage this well (although I suspect that there is an element of hand-washing going on in Sheffield at present.
      I just wish that LTA's produced printed maps! It's not much to ask!!

  4. I have recently been making a large number of bus journeys in parts of the country that are unfamiliar to me and relying on both electronic and printed timetables (where available). I've found that the various websites and apps I've used are just about adequate for planning purposes the printed material (especially the few area-wide books I've encountered) has been much more useful and has allowed me to change my plans advantageously when I've stumbled across alternatives that the electronic systems just didn't offer. In this context three cheers to Devon County Council for their timetable books.

  5. I have just trawled through the Megabus website trying to find some timetables with no joy.

    Individual journey enquiries were possible but I had no success finding timetablers listing all services on a particular route. Stagecoach website is not much better.

    Both make First KLernow's printed timetable book / website look positively good!

    1. Bloody hell.....The whole point of Megabus is that its all administered by web to keep costs down so you can enjoy your £1 fares.

      Normal people don't want to pay more just so a few enthusiasts can horde loads of 'collectible' paper leaflets.

  6. Andrew Kleissner24 March 2016 at 07:00

    Surely one solution is to do what our local company (Ipswich buses) does: which is to produce printed timetable leaflets and then have them available on the websites as pdf files? I realise that isn't the same as a Journey Planner app, but it is at least simple. Many/all rail companies do the same (Scotrail is a case in point) although they don't alwayus make it easy to find them!

  7. There are no public timetables as such for megabus

  8. ...but Megabuses are on Traveline and some at least of the regional Traveline sites (Ihaven'tt ried all) will allow you to print off a complete timetable for the route.

  9. "Strong anecdotal evidence" - what you mean by this is "I reckon this and I reckon other people reckon this too" - this is not evidence.

  10. Though I don't like it, I can understand this wish to save money and not print paper timetables..... but there is no excuse for not providing the equivalent old fashioned "panel" timetables as PDF documents on line for the SIGNIFICANT group of users who still wish to have use of a full and proper timetable presented in this format.. It costs nothing. People who like to plan their trips themselves should be able to obtain the full information to do so without being forced to use clanky journey planning software which still, very often, produces very much less than optimum plans, as FBB and others often highlight.