Friday, 21 October 2016

The 1420 from Axminster to Bridport (3)

Devon's Dubious Definition
Remembering the joys of the often non-working display at Axminster, fbb is grateful to a correspondent who updated him about display screens in Exeter. Way bank when, el chubbo reported that the old screens that adorned the bus stops in the city centre were mostly busted and useless. The few that worked were, mostly, wrong and useless.

A few new displays have been installed using portrait format TV-type screen in tasteful shades of blue. An investigative trip is needed but, for the moment, we can glean something of their quality by reproducing the display for fbb's local route 9A. Remember (of course you do) that this runs from Exeter to Newton Poppleford, Sidmouth, Seaton and Lyme Regis.

So what does the departure screen show?

 9A     Marine Place   1025  

So where, Devon Council, is Marine Place?

It is, as everyone viewing the sign will know (NOT), in Seaton. The bus, of course is going to  Post Office  and fbb will leave his readers with the Devon bus map extract so they can guess which Post Office! You will need to click on the map to enlarge it.

All County Councils are short of cash; so why has Devon wasted money on useless displays. Answers, together with a £50 note, to:- Devon County Council, Topsham Road, Exeter, EX2 4QD.

P.S. Profuse apologies to the correspondent in question. In an outbreak of stubby-fingeredness, fbb managed to lose the picture of a full Exeter display. It was a bit fuzzy, so the above re-creation is more legible.

And so to TransXChange
Readers are warned that continuing with this blog may damage their health, possibly for ever.
A quick search on-line reveals the "schema(s)" for the system.
But beware; it consists of 302 pages. This is the index for the "Introduction":-
But let us bravely press on, remembering that this is the method of passing bus timetables between various users or creators of electronic information. Here is part of the index for the so-called "Short Tour" of the impenetrable hades of TransXChange.
And this is a diagram showing how TransXChange is used ...
... and we've made it to page 32 of 302! And then a diagram of the schema structure.
And what, pray is a schema? Wikipedia explains it succinctly.

A database schema of a database system is its structure described in a formal language supported by the database management system (DBMS). The term "schema" refers to the organization of data as a blueprint of how the database is constructed (divided into database tables in the case of relational databases). The formal definition of a database schema is a set of formulas (sentences) called integrity constraints imposed on a database. These integrity constraints ensure compatibility between parts of the schema. All constraints are expressible in the same language. A database can be considered a structure in realization of the database language. The states of a created conceptual schema are transformed into an explicit mapping, the database schema. This describes how real-world entities are modeled in the database.

fbb's head is now hurting; so let us go back to what TransXChange is meant to do. Here is its "official" "raison d'être". It is designed to allow the exchange of these "things" between systems:-

Bus schedules including stops, routes, departures times/frequencies, operational notes, and maps. 

Routes may have complex topologies such as circular routes, cloverleaf and lollipops, and complex workings such as short working and express patterns. Connections with other services can also be described;

The days on which the services run, including availability on public holidays and other exceptions;

Term times and holidays of Schools, Local Educational Authorities and other organisations serviced by a bus service;

Information about the Bus Operators providing the service;

Additional operational information, including fare stages, positioning runs, garages, layovers, duty crews, useful for Automatic Vehicle Location or AVL and on-board ticketing systems.

And here is an extract from a typical file that fbb sends off to the team grappling with the complexities of the GoTimetable system. It is a simple CSV file (CSV = comma separated value).

It has table number, operator and date details plus a list of stops ...
... which can be as detailed or as crude as is desired.

Then comes the timetable with its associated journey and date notes:-
The only information NOT included in the current file "schema" (snigger) is that coloured in red, above. 

So it is no wonder that mistakes like the 1420 from Axminster to Bridport are just busting to be made using TransXChange. Somewhere in the 302 pages (read it here if you dare) must be many a recipe for obfuscation and all-round complication.

What fbb has not revealed, however, is the very clever program that takes the GoTimetable CSV file, checks it as input and then turns it into the output as presented on you laptop or Android phone; but in ludicrously simple words, the program does (or can do) all that TransXChange purports to do but using a simple easily edited and understood sheet of names and numbers.

fbb does wonder how the costs compare?

Don't Ask Is, We Only Run The Buses!
And if you want to get from Axminster to Dorchester in the 1420 X51 (or any other bus) don't try asking the First Bus App.
It cannot get you any further than Bridport. Here is a map extract to give some geographical context.
And, coming back from Dorchester to Axmiunster?
You cannot get beyond Bridport either.

All together now:-

And for the record, the Traveline Timetable for the X51 and X53 (which is where this problem started) was riddled with errors, not just the 1420 from Axminaster. Apparently it was a TransXChange file used to pass the data from First Bus to Traveline!


 Next photographic blog : Saturday 22nd October 


  1. So . . . . . in summary, let's get a waste of IT consultants (where a "waste" is a collective noun) in to write a specification that will encompass everything in the known world that we know and are likely ever to want to know, to build a system that will be all things to all men and probably rule the world.

    Let's make it horrendously difficult to upload data into, and then fail to give comprehensive training to the users who input the data and the users who interpret the data.

    Let's then make sure that, having trousered the wads of cash for producing this system, that we run away to another job (or even a desert island) without training up anyone else to assist said users when they can't comprehend the program.

    And finally, Esther, let's blame everyone else in sight (and even those who aren't in sight but hiding around the corner) when it all goes wrong, and opine that "it was all right when we signed it off; it must be the subsequent updates that have wrecked it".

    I haven't used the Go . . . . app, not having a smartiephone but an Elderberry, but if the data input and subsequent amendment is that easy, then . . . . . ah, but of course it all requires human intervention, which, as we know, is suspect when it comes to accuracy; a machine is much better, 'cos it only does what the programmer tells it to do . . . . . and we're back at the top again!!

    Back to work now, to wrestle with another program (in this case written by Germans, but otherwise as noted above) . . . . that's Life, Jim!!

  2. Dynamic Destinations

  3. To Greenline727. GoTimetable will work on your Elderberry but not off-line so you do need to be connected to the world wide web.

  4. All very well, but in fact the GoTimetable system actually doesn't give much of the information you suggest. For example, there is no operator given, so how do I know whether my weekly pass is valid?

    Lets face it, TransXchange is a sledgehammer, but we have more than a nut to crack. Can you imagine trying to get anywhere this level of information 50 years ago? Let's celebrate progress, whilst at the same time imploring operators and local authorities to get the data right first time!

  5. Can't let that one go, Anonymous above.

    Go timetable shows the operator for every service. We would add phone numbers if many operators had not abrogated their responsibility to remote Traveline call centres.

    TransXChange has no fares information; for that you need FaresXChange - and that is another story.

    50 years ago I would collect (or send for in the post) a lovely timetable book which would tell me everything I needed to know. And a timetable books works superbly off-line.

    Progress? Really?

    1. Not sure I agree that you're showing the operator. Take 1/1A in Sheffield for instance; on the title page you show two operators, but I can't find on the detailed timetable which operator runs which service?

    2. And also... 50 years ago I agree the timetables were lovely; but did you really know if a service had changed last week? Or exactly where the bus stops were if you had a tight change in town? Or what about those smaller operators who didn't reply to your letter??

  6. Actually it was a word document from First that was wrong, I was accidentally sent an unfinished draft. The Transxchange files don't arrive until closer to the introduction date, for other purposes, and in the case of X51 and X53 were correct.
    I receive many transxchange files from operators for Traveline to compliment the paper registrations or as EBSR and this has saved me many man hours of timetable creation, and virtually eliminated the possibility of transcription errors. If I do see something amiss, reference to the operator usually results in corrected files almost immediately. I was sceptical of the early releases of Transxchange but am perfectly happy with the current version as it imports exactly what the operator has registered in a few seconds of processing time.
    Ken Traveline Dorset

  7. Thanks Ken - appreciate your positive view! I still think it would be a lot easier and a hugely faster to create if we all used simple CSV files!

  8. FBB, I take it you're aware of First's plans to close Midland Road? How long will it be before Rotherham's town services disappear as well. You only have to see what happened when Halfway closed and Tracky's Doncaster depot. The beginning of the end for First in Rotherham for me. One has to wonder whether similar plans are afoot for Leger Way ...