Hi-tec Let Down

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I find, as I get older, the world confuses me more than ever. In my mid-40s, I guess I’d better get used to being taken over by computer programmes that take my money off me in supermarkets, tell me when the bus is coming and offer to pay me compensation for an accident I never had.

Despite the indignation of having to “swipe” my own Mothers Day card and repeatedly telling the machine that, no I didn’t take a bag, and no, I don’t want any of the chocolate “offers”, I remain slightly optimistic that technology is the future.

“Slightly” being the operative word. Readers of previous blogs here will be aware of my little issues with the Swift Smartcard (which, to date, Centro and Arriva are still “looking in to” – hey, it’s their loss if they want to keep giving me free trips because their machines don’t work). I await the day when the vast majority of us are using “smart technology” and – as happened recently in London – the whole system goes belly up and everyone has to travel for free whilst some 15 year old boffin sorts it out.

I’m belly-aching on here this time as I managed to stumble over Network West Midlands’ journey planner. Now this is particularly bad luck (for them) as I have a pretty decent knowledge of the West Midlands public transport network and thus rarely have any need to use a journey planner in this part of the World. But Centro has recently re-jigged it’s NWM website into something a lot cleaner-looking and easier to use. Whilst having a mooch around, I played with the journey planner.

Oh dear.

I tried a few examples. From my house to Birmingham City Centre turned out to be the wildest of wild goose chases. Even if you were wild with a wild goose. I won’t waste your time describing these in detail, but suffice to say that they weren’t the most logical ways to get from A to B. Would they work? Yes. Would you use them? Only if you were a geek like me who enjoys the minutiae of it all.

I’ve come across this before when I’ve tried to use online journey planners for different parts of the country. Overwhelmingly not good! So I nearly always resort to getting hold of individual timetables, maps, etc and working it out for myself. Which is a shame. Technology appears to be getting too clever for itself. But is this actually putting off people from trying public transport? You can have the sleekest website (and Network West Midlands’ new one is very attractive), but if you’re still confronted with something that looks more difficult than it actually is, you’re still going to look goggle-eyed at it and drive instead. Or get a taxi.

I’m going to sound terribly old-fashioned now, or a bitter and twisted old bloke who can’t get “with it” when it comes to technology, but remember the days when we employed knowledgeable human beings who knew their “patch” and could advise people in enquiry offices and over the phone? They could write things down, give you a timetable and map and explain things because they knew the area. I know we had the inconvenience of having to pay them, but wasn’t it all better than staring blankly into a computer screen and thinking “that can’t be right”…..

I know we still have enquiry offices – and long may they continue to serve. I just hope the accountants don’t have them firmly in their sights for the next cull. Getting hold of maps is an increasing challenge and as for timetables – well Sheffield has done away with them in paper form. No good if you have no internet connection, or trying to access them on your phone on the move. It’s no good sighing into your mobile when you’re faced with the gobbledegook of the infamous “journey planner”. The Government’s plan to force the bus industry to hand over it’s data to geeks to make “useful” apps needs to be very carefully thought through. And not at the expense of more traditional ways of discovering information.

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2 comments

  1. greenline727 · March 6, 2016

    Welcome to the Land of the Technology Luddite!! There is no substitute for a piece of paper (yet).
    Seriously, though . . . . while about my lawful occasions on Saturday, I determined that I would travel on Route 382 from Worcester to Pershore; my selected departure was at 11:45, and the expected operator was Astons Coaches.
    I rocked up to Worcester on the 10:48 train from Reading, sampled a bacon butty and a coffee and sauntered along to the Bus Station at about 11:25. Having found it necessary to wander up to ALL the stops to select mine (the e-display was showing “please check stops for information”), I found that the bus had departed at 11:05 and the route is now operated by FirstBus!!
    I had located the timetable by googling “Worcester Bus 382”, and finding a link to the Astons’ timetable, which confirmed 11:45 and hourly. I dare say that if I’d continued wandering through the links, I’d have found another version, but why should I need to? And how do I know which one is valid?
    My point is, if there is no printed information, how does one find accurate and reliable information on the www? If Astons’ no longer operate the service (since early February, it seems), how could I still find their timetable on line? It should have been deleted!!
    There are now less than 10 councils that publish comprehensive bus times in England ( Cornwall (maybe); Devon; Hampshire; Surrey; Buckinghamshire; Suffolk; Herefordshire; Central Bedford). Many of the rest simply default to Traveline, which isn’t always accurate (although is better than 10 years ago, but still very clunky to use if you want the full timetable).
    My day out was wrecked, and I returned on the 12:06 train instead. Next time? Unless I can confirm the information by two sites, I shall simply distrust the data and (probably) not travel at all.

  2. philtonks · March 10, 2016

    Not good.
    I guess local councils have varying degrees of good timetable information, but you’re right – the Internet isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to finding out bus information.
    Isn’t Derbyshire still producing the timetable books?

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