Thursday, 15 March 2012

What Journey Planners DON'T tell you ...

... and a real human being might?

fbb had a little travel problem last week. Mrs fbb was at a Bible Study and Prayer "retreat" in a hotel in Shanklin; very pleasant with excellent servce from the Christian owner (Hotel web site here : fbb was invited to enjoy "cream tea on arrival" although he was not staying!). So it was that on the Thursday, fbb was required to deliver the car to the hotel ...
... and return homewards by public transport. Thus Mrs fbb could use the limo to take some of her fellow guests to the Station.

So what might the quickest way back be?
Because Hampshire is in the Traveline West area, is it easy to misread the map and seek Island enquiries from this source. Not the best journey plan, is it?

Traveline South East offers the more sensible option ...
... with a 50 minute stop-to-stop journey time. Unfortunately, fbb was scheduled to miss the 1000 service 3 ...
... which would mean a missed connection in Ryde with the hourly service 8; and an even longer travel time (one hour and fifty minutes) for this particular 8 mile journey.

But, as Chris Tarrant would say on "Millionaire"...
... "we don't want to give you that." There is a better, quicker way which the journey planners don't tell you. But a "man who does" might, no, would, be able to advise you.
Catch the train at 1018 from Shanklin Station, alighting at Ryde St Johns Road Station at 1035.
Meanwhile the hourly Service 8 to Seaview is just pulling out of Ryde Bus Station about half a mile away. So simply spring across the road, observing the sign which dates from the day when St Johns Road was a terminus.
And, almost instantly, the bus arrives ...
... and whisks fbb to Seaview arriving at 1050.

Thirty two minutes, stop-to-stop!

Because Island Line is the most reliable train service in the country (it ought to be, running a maximum of two trains at a time!) the tight connection is totally realistic. If, by any horrific chance, it were to fail there are two possibilities. There are five buses an hour from St John's Road to the bus station to catch the next service 8.

The next train northwards is only 20 minutes away. Island Line runs two trains an hour spaced at 20 and 40 minutes because when the track was "rationalised" (trimmed to the bone) it was to allow for a 20 minute frequency. The layont of passing places makes a simple "every 30" impossible.
Of course, you could, at one time, visit the local hostelry, the "Railway"; recently closed, recently re-opened ...
... before that for sale and still on the market, before that closed, before that the "Frog and Firkin" (or was it "Slug and Lettuce", the "Chair and Sleeper"?) and before that, the "Railway". When fbb passed by it was ...

... closed.

Before the TUC** writes in to tell all, fbb is fully aware that a connection in, effectively, zero time is beyond the wit of journey planners and rightly so. But, and this is the point, it is not beyond the wit of a local telephone enquiry service.

Which technology would encourage folk to travel with contented confidence; a mindless computer or a very nice man (or lady, of course) at the end of a local phone line?

And which is more likely to increase revenue for the bus company?

** Traveline Users Club (?)

 Next Blog : due Friday March 16th 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. As a founder member of the TUC**, I feel you would be disappointed if I didn't respond !

    I have to agree that no journey planner is ever going to handle responses such as “If everything runs to time, then you should be able to catch such and such a bus - but failing that you only need to wait so long for the next one, and so on”. Or if it did, it would be incredibly complicated to use – even more so than Transport Direct ! And a knowledgeable person on the end of a phone or over the counter is probably the only way you are ever going to get that type of advice.

    But the problem is two-fold. One is a lack of people with the right type of detailed knowledge and the second is that in reality there are very few people making the sort of query which requires that level of detail.

    I say this because forty years ago I spent two summer vacations manning the telephones at the EYMS enquiry office in Hull, interspersed with periods dealing with parcels and lost property. (Whether I was considered as ‘a nice man at the end of the phone’ by callers, I wouldn’t like to say). My memories of the time are that a very large proportion of enquiries were simply for ‘the next bus to Withernsea’, to which the answer was ’the 75, 76 or 77 at quarter past or quarter to the hour’ (an answer, incidentally, which would still do perfectly well today). The number of occasions that enquiries involved more than one bus was very small – and the number involving changing between train and bus practically zero. However, I do remember one occasion when a lady rang asking if she could get a bus to Laxton, a village in the flatlands east of Goole, and being surprised when I told her she would be best getting the train to Saltmarshe station - which as you will know is at Laxton. She was very grateful, but astonished to be told about trains after ringing the bus company. However, not all of my colleagues would have answered in the same way – most would just have said “I’m afraid we don’t run there”.

    So although there will be some occasions when passengers would certainly benefit from being able to call on such advice, I fear the additional revenue generated compared with a computer system would be very small - which is probably why bus companies and local authorities look for the technical solution, which is at least consistent.

    However, I appreciate that my experience is fairly insignificant compared to your own – and I know you have a different take on how the finances play out.

  3. I think there is a difference between "information", which can often be easy, and "confidence" which equally often isn't. Because of technology, people are losing confidence in the institutions that they need to use. Bus companies are selling, not just rides on a bus, but the confidence that such a ride will be feasible. I think a "scientific" study would show that the users of Traveline have already made the decision to travel whereas a real person answering the phone can (and did become a mini-salesman for both present and future travel.
    The mass withdrawal from enquiry offices and local phone services brings a reduction in confidence.
    I agree that it will never appear on "the bottom line". Even huge supermarkets have enquiry desks!
    If I ran a bus service, I would be horrified to leave my company's product in the hands of someone sitting in a bunker many long miles away.

  4. A further point. The companies that repeated win awards for customer service etc. (Brighton, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Western Greyhound etc) are usually those that man their own enquiry service.
    Again, generally, these are companies that have significantly "grown the market"