Friday, 27 September 2019

At The Bus Stop (5)

Computers are wonderful things, we are told - but they are ineffably stupid. All these beats can do is add 0s and 1s as follows:-
Of course, they can do their sums incredibly quickly and the hardware and software gurus can use the 0s and 1s to do exciting things, like draw pictures and print text.

So if Mr Derbyshire County Council uses software to print out his bus stop departure lists (he would never think of using enlarged pages from his timetable book) the incompetent confuser will only deliver what it has been told to do, or, even worse, what the software designer has decided he wants.

So the instruction reads (in simplified form) ...
So let's see how that system works out at a bus stop. Come with fbb to Castleton's so-called bus station.
It offers a small yard for turning, a shelter and access to public conveniences. When Google Streetview first trundled past, you could see a large display frame which contained, wait for it, enlargements of pages from the County's timetable book ...
... very useful for the potential passenger.

But the Council, sitting lonely at the office desk, spoke only
That one word, as if their soul in that one word they did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered - not a eyebrow then he fluttered -
    Till We scarcely more than muttered “Friends have understood before -
A timetable they have viewed, in frame at stop in days of yore.”
       But the Council said “Nevermore.”

[Extract from "Mr Raven's Bus Ride" by Edgar Allen Poe]

The two support poles still stand, but each one now supports a standard timetable frame.
Presumably the old big frame was busted? And no one has seen fit to replace it?

Now for the fun? What do we learn from these new computer generated displays?
The 2C is something of a mystery as it doesn't even feature in Derbyshire's timetable library but Traveline reveals ...
... a college day journey.
173 is an infrequent local services of considerable importance to folk in the neighbouring villages.
It takes you, amongst other delights, to the magnificent Monsal Head.
The 174 is a positional journey to get Mr Hulley's bus back to its shed for an overnight rest.

But now it gets really silly!
Four headings for one service; that 's two different operators (First and Hulleys) ...
... each with two route variations withing Sheffield City (271 and 272).
Then look for the actual times at the bottom of the frame ...
... with a significant clutter of notes.
Oh for the clarity and comprehensibility of a proper timetable!
But we plough on with developing gloom.
The 273 is orange, to distinguish it from the 271 which is orange. No doubt they were different colours on the computer's palette, but they look very much the same behind mucky glass. To save your eyesight, fbb can reveal that there are 273s at 1552 and 1815.

Here is a map to help you.
No mention of the 274?
Has it been withdrawn? Nope, it appears on Derbyshire's timetable page.
It is the same basic route as the 273 but it doesn't run via Derwent Dams. But if we peer very closely at the frame we might just spot this:-
It says "274 & 276 journeys see other display" and, abracadbra, there they are in the second bus stop frame.
As you may have already guessed, the 273/4 has a different operator on Sundays, so the confuser decides it needs four headings when just one would suffice.

And, just to add to the confusion, the 274 and 276 times are separate from the rest.
So, nowhere on these frames can you get a complete picture of buses via Bamford Village and Ladybower - despite the fact they are the same service with a simple double-run diversion.

How to discourage bus usage?

The 276 is a market day shoppers bus.
As Max Millar was won't to say, "Now here's a funny thing."

If Derbyshire were to post enlargements of their printed bus timetables and stick them in the frames they would be more legible, more understandable and TAKE UP NO MORE SPACE.

Derbyshire County has a good reputation for bus information and still produce three PRINTED timetable books (although no longer free!) ...

Information about the books

Each book includes full timetable information for all bus services in the area covered, together with route maps, town plans and a detailed index.

The books cost £2.50 from bus enquiry offices, tourist information centres, public libraries and selected newsagents and post offices in the area.

See the timetable sales points list attached to this page for details.

They are also available by post from us at £3.50 each including postage (UK only).

To order a timetable book please tel: 01629 536732. Payment can be made by credit card or debit card.

... but if Castleton is typical, the roadside publicity is RUBBISH!

Very disappointing.

 Next Weekend Extras blog : Saturday 28th September 


  1. Yes that departure list could do better and many do now. They are simplified and Large Print.

    The reason is that most of the public in tests cannot read a timetable either at all or only inaccurately. It is seen as a sea of small print or if they try the column notes are missed. In any case is today a school holiday on a Monday to Saturday timetable?

    Also if you are not at a timing point, then where in the timetable are you? If the bus sometimes diverts is your stop served or missed? Etc, etc. Stop specific departures makes it clearer.

  2. Derbyshires Timetable books have always been paid for - they were 35p & 40p when I first bought them prior to deregulation. They remain one of the better councils for publicity but are suffering from the usual huge budget cuts that also affect roadside publicity.

  3. One thing nobody can accuse FBB of is inconsistency! Unfortunately, he sees things from a timetable compiler's perspective, and not that of a normal passenger.

    As Anon at 09:18 says, the public are not particularly good at understanding typical bus timetables. I don't know which research he is citing, but I know that the NBC Research department examined this subject, probably in the early 1980's, and found that the level of understanding of timetables among bus passengers was lower than for the general public as a whole.

    So, is FBB suggesting that the Derbyshire timetable page for the 274 and 275 should be displayed at Castleton? That makes no sense. The example shows 10 journeys, 5 of which do not server Castleton at all. And why would a passenger who boards at Castleton to go shopping in Sheffield need to know when the bus stops at Ladybower Inn? They don't - it's extraneous information, which only serves to confuse - and possibly wastes the passenger's time while they tried to absorb it when they might be in a hurry to find the information that they really need.

    At the bus stop, departure lists are fine - they just need to be accurate. A list travel times to major stopping points is also useful - but not always essential.

    The principle is called KISS I believe - Keep It Simple, Stupid (

  4. I do remember how amazed I was, going to live in Glasgow in the mid-70s, to find no timetable information whatsoever at the majority of stops, nor even flags saying which services called there! That came as a shock after living in London where every stop had a comprehensive timetable.

    As i happens, I think lists of departures are fine - just so long as passengers also have some idea of how long their journey will take. I also note that the vast majority of people (not me!) do have Smartphones and use them to check bus times. Clearly the way forward for many folk is via an integrated app which gives you all the information one needs and also allows one to pay. Where this falls down of course is where a stop servers several different operators who are "not on speaking terms" as far as the provision of information is concerned.

  5. A thought. If a railway station only had such poorly-prsented information there would be a right storm - and rightly so.
    Could do better.

  6. I know that this is radical, but the days of the roadside bus display (be it departures or a timetable) are numbered.
    From my volunteering in Scouting I know that teenagers looking for their first taste of independence use phone based transport information, and often purchase their ticket the same way, depending on the proximity of the bus as shown on realtime data.
    And another group of new to the bus passengers are the newly retired with their bus passes. They are ready to switch some journeys from the car, and again those I know use phone technology extensively to plan their journeys. Not just the "whole day" planning, but also the "can I nip to the shop before boarding" type planning that real time data enables.
    For both groups pf people a bus stop flag with confirmation that their chosen service calls is more important than whats in the display case. And if they do glance at the case whilst waiting an advert saying "did you know you can get a bus to..." is probably better use of the space than either a table or a list.
    OK, there are many other passengers besides those I have mentioned, but if two significant "new to the bus" segments of the market have no need of a roadside display, and most of the others know the time through habit operators and councils may well be spending limited money on a less than useful output.
    OK, the day of no roadsides is probably a little way off, but step back and ask how many businesses make you stand in the cold and wet to look at their "catalogue" when so many other information streams are now available.

  7. Why not have 2 frames, one headed "Departures from this stop" and one headed "Full timetable"?