Tuesday 6 September 2016

GoTimetable : The Devil's in the Detail

The Demands of Dodgy Data

In the Bible, Daniel is trapped when his enemies persuade the King to issue an irrevocable decree. 

So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: "Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions' den?" The king answered, "The decree stands; in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed."

Daniel ends up in the lion's den - and survives.

In the bus industry there appears to be an irrevocable law as well. It states:-

Once we put it on the computer it is up-to-date, reliable and just what the customer needs.

Except it often isn't. The output from back office computer systems often finds its way into public timetables; and it simply isn't good enough.

Nothing illustrates this better than Stagecoach service 25. From the Travel South Yorkshire (aka South Yorkshire PTE, hereinafter abbreviated TSY) map we can glean a few points of passenger interest.
At Woodhouse (Cross Street being the official time point - or is it?) there is common ground with First Bus route 24 (both coloured DARK BLUE), but the 25 runs via Spa Lane (or does it?). The two routes then diverge significantly ...
... 24 via Stradbroke (not shown on the map, but see Ravenscroft Road) and the 25 via Woodthorpe (not shown on the map but see Woodrove Avenue).

The routes merge at Manor Park and run together to Meadowhead. For non Sheffield residents that is from east of the City Centre to south.
Meadowhead is the roundabout bottom left on the A61.

From here the services diverge again ...
... following different routes to Lowedges where they re-join in loving harmony. The joint route then leads to Old Mother Redcap (or does it?) ...
... before the Stagecoach 25 strikes out to Longford Road (or does it?). Old Mother Redcap is a pub at Bradway Bank (not shown on map) where, in the good old days, buses showing "Bradway" on the blinds (which it never was) reversed into Wollaton Road.
The picture is from Wollaton Road, looking across to the turning circle outside the pub. The Longford Road "loop" is further along Wollaton Road.

This confusing mixture of services was created (by consultants - who else?)  "to improve bus services for the people of Sheffield" as part of the Sheffield Bus Partnership changes in November 2015. And we all know what a huge success that was. In the text above, fbb had hinted darkly at some of the problems of this pair of cobbled-together routes.

For once, First's timetable is straightforward ...
... but it does reveal that 24s do not run to Old Mother Redcap all the time. Early morning and evening Monday to Saturday and all day Sunday you will find First 24a at the pub. For the rest of the time you need Stagecoach 25.

You may wonder why Fishponds Hastilar Road South and Bradway Longford Road are in the First list of time points when no buses go there.

And here is their timetable for buses from Woodhouse to Bradway (Bank).
Readers may, for the time being, quietly ignore the fact the Saturdays and Mondats to Fridays are all jumbled up. Oh, yes; X means "not on Bank Holidays.

This is extracted from their working timetable which is not published for the edification of passengers - thankfully - although the company often does upload its working timetables in the absence of anything better. And here are your "Mastermind" questions.

1. What time are the buses from Spa Lane (see map above)?
2. Why are there TWO time points at Woodhouse, only 3 minutes apart?
3. Where are the buses to Longford Road
4. Does this route run via Woodthorpe?
5. Which way does the bus go between Woodseats and Lowedges?
6. If this is "joint" with First 24 why is there a different "Manor Park"?
7. Ditto atWoodhouse?
8. Ditto at Woodseats?
9. Is Harborough Avenue the same as Centre Shops at Manor Park?

With the times for the opposite direction ....
... the exam continues.

10. What has happened to Old Mother Redcap?
11. What time are the buses from Longhford Road?
12. Which way does the bus go between Lowedges and Woodseats?
13. Does the bus go via Woodthorpe?
14. Where is Skelton Grove (see map - it isn't there)?
15. How is the ordinary member of the public ....

beep beep beep beep : I've started so I'll finish ...

... expected to make sense of all this?

Of course, in steps Travel South Yorkshire to provide us with a timetable that merges the 24 and 25.

Here is an extract of the "from Woodhouse" table.
Apparently Stagecoach 25s don't run from Cross Street OR Tannery Street after all; Spa Lane and/or Skelton Grove times are a state secret; there is no mention of Strabroke or Woodthorpe and, look at the bottom ...

Only SOME 25s run to Longfotd Road. There is no service in the early mornings, evenings and all day Sundays. And when they do go there, they don't call at Everard Avenue or/and Old Mother Redcap until AFTER Longford Road.

In the Other direction ...
... there are no buses from Longford Road at all and, for most of the day, no buses to Spa Lane OR Skelton Grove or even Skelton Lane. There are, however, just a few that go there, arriving at (Mondays to Fridays) 1757, 1811, 1832, 1900, 2012 and 2334. Similar oddments turn up there (wherever it is) on Saturdays and Sundays.

As fbb wrote above:-
So that's the sort of thing that GoTimetable Sheffield has to sort out.

Have a look!

GoTimetable Sheffield
For information go to

And, talking of Computers!

How's this for a jolly tale (?) from Bristol yesterday.

Bristol First buses go free
New timetable system crashes

Most buses were free in Bristol today (Monday) after the ticket machines on First buses stopped working on a morning of absolute chaos for the firm.

It is the first day of First's new timetables, but the company's on-bus GPS systems crashed, buses followed old timetables and routes, and the firm's entire computer system stopped working. This meant none of the bus stop 'next bus' electronic signs worked, buses failed to turn up, the new timetables were not adhered to and the firm was deluged with complaints from confused and irate commuters.

There was good news for thousands of passengers though – with ticket machines out of action on the buses, drivers just waved passengers on without collecting any money.

Where did we put those sheets of crushed wood-pulp and the sticks with a rod of graphite down the middle?
 Next GoTimetable blog : Wednesday 7th September 


  1. Tried using Go Timetable. I thought it was poor.

  2. There has been a twitter storm raging as "older folk" take the mickey out of the yoof, posting pics of phones with dials, fountain pens, tape cassettes etc with the hashtag #HowToConfuseAMillennial

    Of course, said millennials have pointed out the supreme irony/massive contradiction of the older brethren doing so via the white heat of social media, the epitome of modern communication.

    Surely FBB is guilty of similar ironic behaviour. Taking glee in First's technological travails saying "Where did we put those sheets of crushed wood-pulp and the sticks with a rod of graphite down the middle?" on a blog (yes a blog - not an illuminated manuscript) that describes how delightful his new timetable app is!!!!

    Surely, rather a paradoxical approach from the aged gentleman?

  3. If the top anon would tell us what was "poor" about GoTimetable, I am sure the team would like to look into his perceived dissatisfaction. Anonymous criticism is of no help to anyone. Please use the "contact" mechanism on the site/the app and the team can respond.

    1. I've just seen it done loads better pal.

      Sorry if its touched a nerve.

    2. Thank you Elastic Man. No nerve touched. We are always happy to consider criticsm and suggestions.

  4. Anonymous at 1052. I agree entirely - ironical isn't it. It also exposes the stupidity of Travel South Yorkshire's policy of not producing printed material. When the whole internet goers belly-up (as certainly it will, one day) we will all have to go back to using coins, bits of paper, pens and letters with stamps on them. In the meantime, use technology with fingers crossed and s suitable plan B.

    1. You genuinely believe the internet will completely cease to exist in the near future?

      Do you have a nuclear fall out shelter under your house?

  5. E-mail to GoTimetable rom James (full name supplied)
    I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for providing a no-nonsense easy to use timetable website. I am impressed by its functionality. Here is a website that actually gives you access to timetables without any fuss. I have to wonder why none of the major operators are following suit for their timetables.

  6. I'd like to try GoTTShef for myself, but sadly it doesn't come in desktop version...
    Two questions from the last two blogs. They may be seen as criticism if you're so inclined, but I am genuinely interested.

    1. I don't know Sheffield at all, so I did glaze over a bit at the questions. Nevertheless, it sounded a little like FBB was suggesting any deviation should have a timing point. May I ask why? Why is the need to roughly work out the time of your bus from a deviation any different to any other stop?

    2. FBB has criticised TSY's maps here and in the past. They are fairly awful - a pink line vaguely in line with geography, no useful additional information, few placenames... FBB's own maps are a blue line vaguely in line with geography, no useful additional information, a few placenames... Could FBB explain (perhaps in another blog series) why he thinks his maps are better? I find offerings from FWT/Pindar and their ilk used in First's own leaflets (and Stagecoach, and Arriva) to be much better. Obviously FBB is limited by personal technology, but I am solely referring to the products as they stand.

    For all stops and timing points, FBB could try something like these!

  7. Amazing! To Anonymous above. The GoTimetable web site works on all (reasonably) modern computers - i.e. desktops.
    Try going to www.GoTimetable.com
    More on maps on Friday.

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