Thursday 3 January 2013

Half a Cheer for "Here to There" [2]

The first complete London timetable ever ...
... but you'll need to buy four volumes at £15 each! The company does have a some current offers via their own sales set-up which may be less painful than £60.

But the books have no index. fbb's North West London arrived with the Transport for London (TfL) North West ...
... and Central route maps which offer some help but only if you strike lucky and spot where you want to go.

So, perhaps you want to get to Quinta Drive. Where do you start looking?
We are promised an index in "Getting Arounnd London" due later this month, doubtless for another £15.
So the books are not very easy to use unless you know exactly what to look for.

The editors have reproduced Robert Munster's PDF timetable pages with no further editorial input; doubtless as the most cost effective way to achieve a result. But this does mean that the failings of the source material are simply re-printed without explanation.

The 242 ...
... would benefit from a little tender loving care, particularly to split out Monday to Friday and Saturday tables. And its non standard extension on Sundays is simply mystifying.
Can I get from Panshanger to Cheshunt Pond on a Thursday? On a Saturday? How do I find out? With no index or editorial input, I am, literally, lost.

The A30 panel (Chesham to Heathrow, Carousel Buses aka GoAhead) ...
... includes 740 and A40 journeys over the common part of the route and this all gets repeated on the full 740/A40 table. Surely it would have been better to show the A30 alone with a cross reference to additional journeys elsewhere. In the extract above, the A30 and the A40 are almost at the same times so presenting them together achieves very little.

Occasional tables appear in the old style of TfL timetable and in much bigger print ...
 ... which is harmless but confusing. As it's "big", it must be special in some way. But it isn't.

Finally some tables come from non TfL sources like this from Uno (University Bus of Hatfield).
It appears in the book in numerical order as service 700. So what is the 635?
Answer : it's the full version of that top bank of times which offer connecting journeys to Stansted by changing at Baldock. Or are they through journeys? "Here to There" simply reprints the timetable with the explanation in small light grey print that is difficult to read.

But, more to the point, what is this service doing in a North West London book anyway?

And the town appears as Hat(space)ield because some posh printers' fonts use a special character which joins the "f" and "i" into a single letter "fi", missing on most computers. It can be (and should be) added by hand.

Whilst fbb applauds the idea of London timetable books, in an ideal world the implementation leaves quite lot to be desired. Having created and edited the Great Britain Bus Timetable and its derivative volumes, fbb is well aware that these things aren't easy. But you are left with the feeling that the compilers ... 

... have taken on an impossible task.

We can only wish them well in their enterprise. They deserve to succeed, but ...

... the information for Sullivan's Watford to Borehamwood service 306 is, frankly, ghastly.

 Next Bus Blog : Friday 4th January 


  1. The provision of public transport information has always been a difficult subject. As I am sure you will agree, getting all operators and authorities to give you correct information in the same format at the same time is not an easy task.

    I suspect that heretothere's business has become something of a virtuous circle. Local authorities, such as Essex, have cut spending and so heretothere have filled a gap. This may encourage other authorities to do likewise and so too heretothere. We are at something of a crossroads with publishing of all forms. Printed paper is not realistic unless substantial runs are involved. We are also at a crossroads with online information as there is not yet any agreed common format or central point from which data can be collected. Heretothere is not a large publishing house. However, I am sure that they are keen to develop publications that will sell as widely as possible.

    Perhaps something can be done through the online registration of bus services, but there is still a long way to go with that. The GB Bus Timetable was probably the nearest that we have ever had to a common standard. It certainly filled a gap for me when it appeared. However, is it a realistic option today, including the level of detail that you write about above?

  2. Right - now you've struck a nerve with me.

    The 635/700 was included, as was the 724, for the benefit of those making outer London connections.

    The 700 timetable is missing a letter in Hatfield. Do you want to know why? The existing timetable that is online has one of the weekend journeys running at times an hour wrong, mis-spelt Hitchen (that was how it was) and changed Stevenage to a single bus stop. Should I have let it go? No! The only software we can get to do the job is Serif Page Plus, which causes any number of problems.

    I would have used the Herts CC timetables, but I'm genuinely not allowed to.

    As I also explained, the timetable for the 306 was a last-minute swap, as I noticed my own work had missed some journeys (QV the St Albans/Luton book which includes Borehamwood). These books were printed and bound on a Friday before the LOTS Sale on the Saturday. Also on that Friday we had to pick up keys for our new place, which we (started) moving into the following Monday. I genuinely thought getting 7 books finished in a short time was doing well.

    Go on then, delete this and come back to me next week when everyone is scared off!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. p.s. the second part of the image, with a checked shirt, is actually that of my partner.......

    ...... we tried to add the missing letters to the name of Hatfield. Even adding in a new text frame caused a problem. The slightest touch can be enough to lose the table you import - it's a question of using the Undo key. I'd rather not have had it out like that, but I'd rather not have a passenger waiting an hour at an isolated bus stop.

  4. I do think that fbb's comments about H2T timetables are a little excessive. I remember the GBBTT, and found that the timetables were sometimes a little too light on timing point detail, and also that the attempts to summarise a complex service pattern often caused confusion.
    HOWEVER, they were a brave attempt to produce something comprehensive, and as long as the health warning was followed and follow up information was sought, they did assist in planning long distance journeys.
    I haven't see a printed H2T book yet, so cannot fully comment, but for a first attempt the on-line sample looks to be broadly acceptable. Yes, if the pages are taken from other sources there is always going to be problems with attempting to correct obvious errors. Yes, an index would be helpful - perhaps fbb would like to take up H2T's request for freelance index compilers?
    Give it time - a brave attempt and I hope that H2T can survive in what is always going to be a niche market.

  5. Saved from Mojave3 January 2013 at 14:20

    I agree that FBB is being unduly harsh on HTT Publishing: HTT are fairly young, have identified a gap in the market and have attempted to fill it. Enterprise - aren't we supposed to encourage that? Their costs and time needs to be paid for. The formatting may not be perfect but the key issue is the data - is it correct? And reformatting all to a consistent style: sure it could be done, but would end up costing rather more than £15 a copy. The design will improve with experience.

    Similar to criticism of National Express (a considerable rant over a 10 minute delay), or the ghastly 306 timetable (Sullivan Buses are a smallish enterprise, aren't we supposed to encourage that?), maybe FBB should try doing something constructive rather than lazy criticism of typos and other people's best efforts without any knowledge of the issues and politics they face.

  6. I too think the normally admirable fbb has been unduly harsh. I sub-edited one of the H2T books (not a London one) and therefore have some appreciation of the difficulty of getting everything right (we did try hard!) without the resources that county councils and operators would have). Of course they would look better in a common format, with the same timing point expressed in the same format by all operators,Traveline's errors and inconsistencies ironed out, etc., but unless Counties wish to cooperate- and some don't, including Essex- this is the best that is realistically available at the moment. Would fbb prefer nothing at all? Because - currently - that would be the alternative.

  7. Thanks commentators (I think?).

    I tried doing something constructive from 1989 to 2001 with grudging support from the Industry a few Local Authorities and barely a nod from National Government. I failed because the industry etc is generally not interested in good puiblicity. There are a few notable exceptions.

    I also led a team which developed and delivered the best and cheapest journey planner system in the world which would cost you (the taxpayer) about £2 million annually to implement rather than the approx £100 million for Traveline and Transport Defunct.

    As you will see from tomorrow's blog, I have also produced something a little better for the 306. It is not perfect because I set myself the task of getting everything on one A4 page.

    I have also offered to "do something constructive" for Suzy, but sadly I cannot afford to do it for nothing and her business model does not allow her to pay me (as you correctly point out).

    I do understand the problems of timetable production, but I am not going to say that Suzy's effort is brilliant when it isn't. That would be disingenuous.

    Reprinting poor information is not the answer. Most of the "London" tables are fine, applying editorial skill to the few oddities would NOT be expensive and would improve things dramatically.

    And, by the way, my "rant" about National Express was not just about a 10 minute late run. It was about the whole sorry package. And I was right to rant. And I published their reply as I will publish Suzy's comments next week.

  8. In answer to the question about the 242 Sunday and whether you can get from Panshanger to Cheshunt on other days, I think the simple answer is you can't, at least not in a way that can be explained in a timetable booklet for which most of the service is out of area. Effectively it requires 4 buses (& 3 operators), if following the route of the 242 sunday it involves changes at Welwyn GC, Hatfield & Potters Bar (the alternative has fewer buses but follows an entirely separate route requiring a change at Hertford at best but relying on a low frequency service on the first leg - & at least 2 different operators).

    The sunday service is effectively 2 separate services combined (Waltham Cross to Potters Bar & Potters Bar to WGC) by the council to make the workings more efficient to reduce the cost of the tender. Sometimes you just have to accept that there is no easy way to provide details of the alternative and that a journey can only easily be done on the day shown.

  9. It seems odd for a review of London timetable information to focus on the few services included within it that do not serve London. The logic of including them is obvious, as the services link towns served by TfL services. But some of them are very complicated. The 242 has its evening bifurcation to Hammond Street as well as the Sunday extension, and schoolday variations. The 306 is an extremely complicated route, and it must be hard to come up with a simple presentation which meets the needs of travellers between central Borehamwood and Watford and those living on the Borehamwood estates. Have you looked at the html version on London Bus Routes?

    I disagree with you on the 740/A30/A40. Effectively this gives the full service on this group of routes between Gerrards Cross and Heathrow, which seems extremely appropriate for a London timetable. Yes, some (but by no means all) of the journeys are timed very closely together, but I wouldn't thank a book that made me look at two separate timetables for what (in London terms) are low frequency routes.

    I'm not saying that this isn't fair comment in places, but a bit more about what is good about the books would have provided better balance.

  10. Oh dear FBB, you do appear to be unnecessarily critical of the work of H2T, if only we all adopted your approach to bus timetables you would have little to write about as the blog consists almost exclusively of your pickiness.

    I know you have a downer on Traveline as it rivalled Xephos and won in garnering the affections of the great and good of the industry. Now a downer on H2T as it attempts to replicate the GBBTT seems unnecessarily churlish.

    From my vague recollections of GBBTT I was never that impressed, I used to buy the national rail timetable but never bought myself to purchase a copy of GBBTT on the few occasions I came across a copy for sale. The timetables featured were sporadic, from memory only prime inter-urban routes and you were ever quite sure how up to date it was. Okay none of that the fault of the publisher but why bother trying to produce something that felt half complete and possibly redundant before its hit the shelves? Now I have bought a copy of one of H2T publications, not necessarily as a travel planning aid but more a historical record of the complete bus network in one particular region of the country, something GBBTT didn't offer due to the perceived randomness of what routes featured.

    Now when it comes to Xephos, I know nor care little for the history of its being or birth but I recently found its presence on the tinterweb, presumably produced and hosted on or of those darn confusers... The web presence is well hidden (why!!!) which makes me wonder whether its still live and of any value signing up for as it requires a subscription to join. The home page contains the fatal flaw of not telling you whether the data you can pay the privilege of using is in fact up to date, oh dear FBB I'll be keeping to Traveline, at least it's free and comes from known sources.