A friend tells me his elderly father wanted to peruse the Argos catalogue the other day. Fair enough.
So off he trotted down to his nearest store to pick one up. They usually sit on a huge pallet outside the front door. But when he arrived, there lain none.
“Ah”, says the Assistant “as soon as they appear, people swarm on them”. My friend’s Dad, in his 80s, can “always go online”, comes the advice. He isn’t online.
Is there a subliminal message for the bus industry here?
I’m increasingly aware of lack of printed timetables. Everywhere. Getting hold of one feels like a prized possession these days. Last time I was in Stafford, I hopped on a D&G bus solely to acquire their timetable booklet (before retreating, prior to departure). Another friend tells me they sell on eBay.
What? People bidding on eBay for a current bus timetable, because they’re so hard to get hold of? Another industry pal confirms this hard to fathom phenomenon.
Arriva in Leicester recently announced it was stopping printing timetables, and dressed it all up as “saving the planet”. Pull the other one. I might have been born the day before yesterday, but I’m not falling for that.
Printed timetable for buses may be a relic for today’s tech-savvy finger-prodders, (and – hey! I’m one of them), but I seriously believe that the industry is making a big mistake going down this route.
People like to browse. Like the Argos catalogue. OK, they might want an electric toothbrush, and they’ll find it online. But what about browsing the rest of the tome? How often has something else caught your eye? Something you never knew you wanted until you saw it?
Same with bus timetables.
When I was but a lad, pre-internet days, I used to revel in acquiring a timetable book. I’d spend hours looking at what was possible. I still do. Whenever I’m in Derby, I buy the local authority booklet, with it’s excellent map. It opens up new possibilities for travel that I never consciously knew about. In Germany, the local bus & rail timetable booklet seems to reside in virtually every household and restaurant/pub. Last time I was there, I offered to buy one and the gentleman in the station simply gave it to me.
You don’t have to be a transport geek to want this. Yes, online timetables are useful, but I find the vast majority of them clunky to say the least. Then there’s the issue of revising your plans on the move. Is there a signal? Has your battery run out? A handy booklet is simple, effective and always to hand.
It may well be cost-effective to stop printing bus timetables, but what about the wider picture? What lessons can the bus industry learn from the stampede to acquire the new Argos book, whenever it appears?