Friday 28 October 2016

Exeter's Electronic Excitement [1]

What The Screens Mean(s)
In Exeter, High Street bus departure screens used to look a bit like this (athough this one is/was in Cardiff.) Each shelter had one suspended from the roof. In the past, fbb has observed these with interest and he came to the following conclusions.

1. About 50% of them were blank.
2. Nobody ever looked at them
3. Those that were working showed times that did not match what was happening on the road

In short, they were useless. There was no such availability in the bus station;  although fbb's correspondent remembers when every stand had a screen operated by a domestic computer in the office. Very simple and effective. Three rousing cheers for Harry Blundred's Devon General!
See! The red boxes suspended above the yellow railings.

Of course, technology has moved on and much improved systems are available linked to efficient databases and utterly "sustainable". For those unfamiliar with technology, "sustainable" means that it all works with very little human intervention.

Which is why Exeter's old screens didn't. They were not properly maintained.

Modern screens are much better, we are told, although Axminster's is often inoperative ...
... and Seaton's has never displayed so much as one orange/yellow dot.
No 1 son and No 2 grandson
enjoying the Seaton display

So fbb was excited as he travelled to Exeter especially to see the new displays. The one (there is only one) in the bus station was adjacent to the travel office and consisted of a large video seen (no yellow/orange dotty letters and number) with departures in time order.
Most destinations appeared correct except, as usual, that for fbb's local route 9A.
Marine Place is not very helpful. It should read "Lyme Regis" but it never will because the 9A doesn't go there; you have to (not) change at Seaton to the same 9A which is a different and separate 9A, electronically speaking. The numbers on the clip above, by the way, are the bus station Stand Numbers; the display also includes route number and time.
fbb might be picky and challenge the location of the sign.
"Bus Station" would remove one source of confusion! Historically it was, indeed, known as Paris Street Bus Station but the vast majority enter via Bampfylde Street.
Not everything at the bus station was accurate, however. The painted lists of departures, stand by stand, included this gem.
You would have a long wait for a bus to Poole, as the last X53 to Poole ran nearly 6 months ago. There is now no X53 from Exeter! But the bus station is run by Stagecoach and the X53, and its pathetic successor the X52, are run by F*rst B*s.

And we don't want anything to do with them, do we?

But fbb was next off to High Street. Here there are only two displays, each for a run of four shelters on each side of the road. The one on the left looked embarrassingly bland as fbb approached.
That was because it was facing IN to the Shelter; a sensible move if it were supplying information for that shelter alone, but rather silly as it referrs to all four!

But, in very general terms, the somewhat hidden screen seemed much as would be expected.
The usual but ever unexplained convention appeared to apply; namely that, if the screen shows XXmins, it is "real time" but if it shows a real time (e.g. 10.35) it is unreal time - just a scheduled departure with no reference to reality. Why is this never explained?

But why are these lists in time order? Do the worthy residents of Exeter turn up at the sign thinking "I am desperate to catch a bus at 1035?" Isn't the usual search for the NEXT service E, for example?

Surely the display should be in route letter order?

Ahh, but ... That's how the non bus passenger program writer has dictated that it should appear; so that's how it has to appear. Right?

Is it picky to complain about arbitrary abbreviations?  Is the technology so proscribed as to require incomplete names like this?

What is wrong with ...
... Exeter St Davids Station?

And where is Marsh Bart?

Similarly St Leonards Count?

Sounds like a character from Sesame Street!

Has no-one in the Exeter Deep Throat confuser section ever heard of scrolling text?

fbb will return to the accuracy and usefulness of these displays early next week; the analysis will fit nicely with the chubby one's experience of the "bus tracker" facility on the Stagecoach App. At last he has found a location where it works; at least it delivers expected times of buses. Whether these are accurate must wait until the future blog. Guess!

But there is another display to look at. This one is at the opposite end of the other set of shelters on the other side of the High Street.

This time it doesn't face into a shelter. Good. But it faces out on to the road. NOT GOOD!

But this time it was ...
... completely blank; busted; kaput; it has passed on; it was deceased; it was (appropriately) a late parrot bus departure screen.

It was good to be back to normal in Exeter; 50% of the screens on the High Street were non-operational.

Isn't technology wonderful?

 Next bus blog : Saturday 29th October 


  1. I think the abbreviations are due to character limits in the source TXC files

  2. Not TransXChange again!Aaaaasrgh!

  3. Exeter High Street mid-morning and no bus at all due for 16 minutes in that direction? Really? I find that very difficult to believe.

    I can't get too excited about "Stn" but "Davids" really should have an apostrophe. "Leonard's" gets one....

    Our local screens (not in Devon; orange dot hanging jobs under the shelter) alternate "SCHD" with the timetabled time if it's not showing real-time minutes which is a reasonable compromise. Whether normal bods recognise such subtleties is debateable though!

  4. 1. First of all, there is *no* reason why Lyme Regis should not appear as the ultimate destination of the 9A. The proof is immediately above it, as the X38 is registered in two parts broken at Buckfastleigh.
    2. Anon is right that there are limitations on the number of characters in a destination, but these vary from system to system, and a dynamic destination in TXC can be significantly longer. 19 and 21 are common limits (see the entry for the 57, 21 characters including spaces), but equally, look what's happened to the D with an inappropriate break on to a second line.
    3. The bus after next is a useful piece of info if, like the customer I spoke to last night, who wanted to know whether she had time to go to the loo or not.
    4. First will pay departure charges for the use of Exeter bus station, including provision of information, but if they haven't asked for the X53 display to be replaced, why would Stagecoach know to do it?

  5. You love a deep throat

  6. Quite right that there is no excuse for Marine Parade: the fact that it is the only service so affected suggests there is an error there somewhere. Has anybody told them, though?

    Likewise Paris Street does sound odd when Bus Station would be more logical. Whilst it is no excuse, there is no guarantee anybody in Devon actually handles this stuff. I once has cause to ring a helpline for something in Lancaster, covered with Lancaster City Council logos. I was asked where I was. I sarcastically responded Lancaster, as though it should be obvious. The helpline was a national one, based in Westminster...

    I cannot agree with you on ordering by service number, though. Ignoring frequency differences, there are numerous corridors in Exeter. E/F, B/E/F, D/H/R/S, 1/J/K/T... if people know they have three buses as a choice, they can start at the top and see which one is first. Else they have to look in multiple places, find which one is first, could be the first they look at, real time vs. scheduled...

    As mentioned in previous comments, a council or operator in charge can only make changes if the other operator paying for the privilege can tell them. It is not, in this case, Stagecoach's responsibility to do First's work for them.

    Judging from our "real time" info system this morning, vehicles will also only show in real time once operating. The first two buses were scheduled only, and bus 3 had real time. Why? Buses 1 and 2 run light from the depot, so their times (presumably) cannot be tracked. Bus 3 runs in service, so can be tracked on its inward journey.

  7. I expect you have seen The Man on the Lancaster Omnibus. A kindred spirit.

  8. The 2nd high street screen has, I believe, never worked. The idea however is sound. The technology is just faulty. Also walk from bus shelter 1 to 4 on the high street is a long one so no one in the furthest bus stop probably even knows the sign exists so it is very poorly thoughT out.