Friday, 10 July 2020

Communication Conundrum

But First, First, The First To Report
Blog readers may well have read the doom and gloom articles by City pundits, suggesting that First Bus is on the brink of ceasing to trade.

Things are grim in the Industry, but perhaps James Freeman offers his Bristolian staff a more reasoned comment.

Lurid National Headlines…
Yesterday (that was Wednesday) saw the release of FirstGroup’s annual results. We are the first of the big five transport groups to report, so we draw all the fire! And so it was.

The Guardian’s approach was typical: “FirstGroup could cease trading as coronavirus hits passenger levels”.

The Group is reporting on the year that ended in March 2020, well before the nasties began to bite.

These gory headlines result from the need, when filing Annual Results, to recognise what is called “material uncertainty”. And you don’t need to be an expert to know that in a Coronavirus-affected world, what is certain is that there is no certainty!

Don’t worry. FirstGroup is a going concern and has the resources to carry on for the foreseeable. But what spooks the accountants is that there is a glass-empty worst case scenario when everything goes wrong. It most likely won’t happen, so we must not behave as if it will.

Despite that, this is a timely warning to us all that these are strange and uncertain times and nothing can or should be taken for granted. We’re not out of the woods yet!

So far we’re surviving remarkably well through the pandemic—thanks to all our efforts, but nobody can guarantee our future! That means staying firmly realistic! Keep smiling.

Of course the Group is much bigger than just a bag of buses. The board is aiming to sell the various US divisions to reduce the level of debt.

But it is hard for mere mortals to understand these high level financial prognostications. We shall have to wait and see what actually happens in the current financial year. it will not be good news for any business.

We should not be surprised if the other bus groups attract similarly "lurid headlines".

More from first bus tomorrow.

Informing The Public
It ought to be simple. If people have a desire to travel by bus or train there are certain basics that they need to take into consideration.



How Much?

At the risk of being repetitive, (last reported in 2016!) fbb will remind his readers that he conducted a live experiment with senior managers in Sheffield a few years ago. vatious attendees at the meeting were challenged to answer a simple question.

When is the first bus from Lodge Moor to city on a Saturday after 12 noon?

Available information was

Traveline journey planner

Traveline timetables on line

Travel South Yorkshire timetables on line

First Bus timetables on line.

Traveline phone service

A timetable book admittedly out of date)

Contenders were invited to use their phones or computer terminals and one hesitant "volunteer" used the timetable book.
Stagecoach and First Bus company journey planners were not available.

Obviously the timetable book won by a significant margin; the next for speed took three times longer. It should be said that, as these good folk were senior executives, their overall performance on all modes was, at best, poor.

So how best can the bus operator communicate to its potential passengers when and where the buses go. Leaving aside the glorious on-line technology available, fbb will consider the vast majority of bus passengers who still have to use (or choose to use) hard copy.

There has been a steady deterioration in quantity and quality of timetable information over the last decade or two. London Transport provided their excellent Panel Timetables at most stops ...
... replaced by crude summaries which required the user to guess the journey time with helpful phrases like, "buses may take longer at busy times". Yep! Sometimes twice as long.
Is "about every 8-13 minutes" really the best way to encourage people to use the bus. and we still don't really know how long our journey will take.

BUT, fbb has to admit, there are situations where a departure list rather than a timetable can be of use. If the bus route is short or very frequent the customer may be happy with a set of departure times. Here is an Oxford Park and Ride.
Then there is the reminder list for regular passengers. Such a "commuter" knows the route, understands likely delays and just needs a quick poke in the brain. 

Here is a departure list (extract) that really does require huge amounts of background knowledge. (click on the graphic for a larger view)
And this one requires too much knowledge!
And another one that simply fails to communicate to an outsider!
At least some departure lists are very straightforward and provide an easy to follow aid to travel. This one is from First Glasgow.
Yet again. however, it is difficult to guess how long your journey will take unless you are going to Dumbarton Road or Kinfauns Drive. This is service 3 and Kinfauns drive is a long road!
A further problem arises when not all the buses on the designated route follow the same set of roads or serve the same destination. These variations can be made clear on a standard "grid" timetable but it is far less easy when all Joseph Public is given is a departure time.

We enter the world of little notes against the times ...
... or big notes against the times ...
... or unnecessary notes against the times ...
... or lots of colours ...
... and unnecessary duplication of headings.
So, assuming that a departure list is useful for some passengers, how best can we inform the public using this "technology"?

You see, fbb has been persuaded by users of GoTimetable that there is a demand for a printable departure list, stop by stop, to give confidence to the passenger.

How best to design an easy to use departure list is fbb's challenge for the next few days.

It could be very easy ...
... or it could be more tricky.

We shall see.

The Control Tower
It is sort of finished.
Perhaps it needs a bit of further explanation - which will come tomorrow. Work is due to start on rebuilding the busted carriage shed, now that the windows have been delivered.

 Next weekend Variety blog : Saturday 11th July 

1 comment:

  1. Andrew Kleissner10 July 2020 at 09:05

    How's this for complexity? Even though (a) I am good at understanding timetables and (b|) speak some Portuguese, I couldn't work "when" buses went to "where". We used a tourist coach instead!