Tuesday 11 October 2016

fbb's Frustrating Failure

More Problems with the Stagecoach App
Trawling through the reviews on Google Play Store, a couple were very enthusiastic about the "Bus Tracker" facility. To fbb, a "bus tracker" should have a map on which a bus icon wiggles along the route in real time; the bus is being tracked geographically and by the clock. TM Travel's bus app has such a facility.
fbb thinks that these reviewers were referring to the  Bus stops  section on the home page. So here is a screenshot from yesterday evening at about 1745.
Both times have a "real time" squiggle against then and, as the buses cross at Marine Place (give or take a minute or two), the times look reasonable. Tap on "see more", however, and the Exeter information has disappeared ...
... leaving only the bus due in 27 minutes for Lyme. 1912 is the bus after that. Going back one screen and tapping on the journey reveals the timetable; at the top for Lyme Regis ...
... and below for Exeter.
So Exeter re-appears?

Whilst a few reviewers were keen, the general opinion was that this facility was inaccurate or unreliable, one writer quoting a bus which was at the stop 8 minutes before the "tracked" time. Of course, this latter "fault" could easily have been operator error, especially as some stop names are less than helpful. (see Combpyne Westhayes Caravan Site/Park - again - which is at Rousdon).

So what fbb needed was a fair test. On Saturday afternoon chubbo set off for Marine Place in sunny Seaton ...
... with the intention of logging the two 9As and the 20 followed by the next 9As an hour later. Counting arrivals and departures this would provide a sample of NINE times. The 20 just arrives and goes away for a snooze, departing after the survey schedule would have ended)

But of a suitable internet signal fbb was bereft. The buses were there but no live interwebnet on the phone.

Half a mile away at fbb mansions there was excellent internet with times ticking happily away but no buses to match - no suitable stop visible from the kitchen window.

Such was fbb's dedication to his craft (?) that he went all the way to Sidmouth to try again. O.K., no dedication at all; the fbbs and chum were enjoying a very pleasant lunch at Dukes.
After the meal, fbb toddled round to the Triangle (a k a the Three Cornered Plot) ...
... to observe yet more 9s and 9As plus the occasional 157.
Counting arrivals and departures there would be 18 times each hour to log; surely enough to check whether the App was any good.

But, yet again, plenty of buses but no signal!

Whilst this was disappointing for fbb, always anxious to be fair and unbiased about modern technology (pause for a few anonymice to guffaw derisively!), it does open up another area of debate. Clever technology is all well and good, super spiffing in fact, but if it is signal-less it becomes useless.

The irony of the situation is that where the passenger needs the most comfort, where a missing or delayed bus on an infrequent service causes great inconvenience, these are often the places where technology fails. Likewise, real time departure screens are often provided at busy town centre stops but vanish out in the sticks.

Ideally the comfort should be provided where it is most needed.

But, undaunted, fbb will try Axminster later this week; less Stagecoach buses but with the joy of a real time (?) display at the station to look at as well.

Bet you can't wait!

And now for Something Completely Different.
Your cheery blogger is a member of Thormcombe Rail Activities Club.
By far the most "regular" topic on the schedule is pictures of old steam engines ...
... with eight of this years eleven monthly (no meeting in August) presentations being something to do with kettles on wheels.

fbb is a guest speaker at the November meeting and, shock horror, it is NOT about steam engines. Will there be a reduced audience?
In essence, your opinionated blogger will be comparing public transport (tram, train and metro/underground) in Paris with similar services in London, hence the snappy title above and the pastiche of the club's logo below.
The main focus for the November meeting will be the iconic Métro.
Two books have been the basis for fbb's research plus a busy few days "route learning" throughout Paris and "les banlieus" in May 2015.
Brian Hardy's book, published in an updated edition in 1999, is an excellent introduction. But a much more thorough history of the system can be found in ...
... this volume from 2000 celebrating the 100th birthday of the network. It is in French!

Then, of course, there is the internet.

There are 14 lines, numbered from 1 to 14 (cleverly), plus two "shuttle" services (3bis and 7bis) being little leftover sections from when the "main" lines were rejigged.
There was also one closed shuttle service (called "La Navette" - actually French for "shuttle").

But the internet revealed a 17th line, operated until 1977 as part of the Métro network and NOT MENTIONED IN EITHER BOOK!
Ir is this oddity (the blobby blue line on the map above) that fbb will be examining tomorrow.

 Next Paris blog : Wednesday 12th October 


  1. Perusal of various Stagecoach Twitter feeds reveals that fbb is not alone in being frustrated with live information availability or accuracy.

  2. I do have sympathy for FBB and his travails on this point. He's correct that live tracking is perhaps more crucial where services are less frequent and the impact is therefore greater for a no show etc. However, there is the counter argument that passenger figures are lower and therefore any cost benefit/impact has to be viewed accordingly.

    Back to yesterday, I must point out a couple of areas. In one line, FBB attacks lazy bus companies who claim it's fine as everything is on-line yet then quotes a senior bus company manager. I find the dismissal of one quote yet reliance on another to be slightly contradictory.

    Furthermore, the quote that "The vast majority of bus passengers either don't or won't or can't look on line." is seemingly undone by the comment from "Lothianman". I think that FBB, and indeed the bus industry, need to be aware that no one way is a panacea. I suspect the truth is that most passengers DON'T want some 1960's style booklet for each and every service (though enthusiasts and Barry Doe probably would). A fair number would like a printed timetable leaflet for the 1 or 2 services they require, and a good number are now of a generation where printed material is nothing other than an anachronism. Therefore, I suspect "Lothianman" is correct in that a tailored, multi-faceted approach is appropriate. NOTE: a booklet is perhaps sensible for areas with a high tourist market such as IOW and Cornwall. My personal preference is for roadside publicity that is up to date; sadly, it is something that is massively variable as the esteemed Roger French has highlighted before.

    Talking of Cornwall, the green Kernow livery is NOT the minibus version. It is THE version and is carried by a least one Dart and one Decker. Indeed, there are two Solos that are in a dedicated livery for the Mousehole service in a fetching pink design.

  3. Andrew Kleissner12 October 2016 at 07:55

    Here in Ipswich timetable information, at least for Ipswich Buses, is good (can't speak for First I'm afraid). IB still produce printed timetables for each service; these can be obtained at their town centre enquiry office and are reproduced on the website. This is augmented by an up-to-date map and a live Twitter feed (although only Monday-Friday 8am - 5 pm). Stop information is provided by Suffolk County Council and is usually pretty good, with all operators' routes and departures shown. There are a few "real time" displays but these are a bit patchy. SCC produced timetables books until this year but have now decided that it's too expensive to do so. It's possible that individual operators' leaflets are still available at the Tourist Information Office. However there is an excellent "Suffolk on Board" website which includes full timetables for all operators in the county; it is frequently updated and includes details of forthcoming changes.

  4. Anonymous at 08:20 suggests that FBB is not alone in being frustrated by the accuracy (or otherwise) of the live tracking information, but FBB 'problems' don't appear to relate to accuracy, but more his inability to verify the apps accuracy. I can't understand FBBs logic here though - it is a mobile app and he wants to test live data, but doesn't appear to have any mobile data capability (or isn't willing to use any of his data allowance to test the app). Any complaint about the usefulness of the app or otherwise seems therefore to be moot. It's like me complaining I can't read one of FBBs beloved timetables because I've not got my glasses with me. Hardly the fault of the provider. Should stagecoach have omitted the tracking information facility entirely in case there might be a small minority of smartphone users don't have any data allowance?


    Wondering if this post might actually be posted, or might it go 'missing' like those where I happened to point out some flaws in FBBs GoTimetable app?!