Friday, 31 January 2014

Cypher

Confession time: when I was a teenager or even earlier I used to revel in the sort of timetables that were complicated by and covered in letters and symbols.


Can anyone guess to which service these Hants & Dorset codes refer?

Hants & Dorset’s traffic staff excelled at this particular craft, peppering their timetable matrices with circles, hearts, crosses, daggers, double daggers and squares.

There were more codes here than at Bletchley Park.

For me, the more the merrier. I was too young to realise that I was very much in the minority and that few people actually understood simple let alone cluttered timetables. Even when I had the privilege of working on some of those very timetables, my view didn’t change, not straightaway.

But when acting commercially there comes an appreciation that simpler is better. So it was that today’s More from Wilts & Dorset timetables, for example, are largely straightforward and comprehensible but even as recently as 10 years ago this actually was not always the case.

I came to know that certain symbols tended to mean the same thing. So, for example, the classic cross-in-circle Å always meant ‘Schooldays only’. No need for the modern SDO or Sch.

H&D was not alone in using these standards symbols. Most territorial operators seemed to have them, especially from the Tilling stable. So, Western National used them, too. And not just symbols. There was an accepted convention for journeys that operated on certain days of the week and nothing strayed from it:

M = Mondays
T = Tuesdays
W = Wednesdays
Th = Thursdays
F = Fridays
S = Saturdays
Su = Sundays

Thus, TThFS always meant a journey operated on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and NTTh not Tuesdays or Thursdays. It’s a convention that many still follow.

But not everyone. Thanks to Plymothian Transit, here’s a timetable for the special service 777. Note that code HF means Thursdays and Fridays only; and that WH is Wednesdays and Thursdays only. Here, H signifies Thursdays. If you think that strange, and I rather do, then those readers who’ve been with me for several years will recall W&D used ‘F’ to mean something entirely different to Fridays only.

I put all this down to a gradual loss over time of scheduling and traffic experience, a contraction in trained staff. But is this loss of respect for the past really an issue? I think it is. Th for Thursday made sense then and it does so now. Using F for something other than Fridays only might not be the most heinous of crimes but it may result in someone being caught out.

21 comments:

Stephen said...

58/59

Daddysgadgets said...

The realisation that the standardised use of timetable format and symbols was important resulted in the birth of the standard british bus timetable in the mid 1960s. All major operators (except London Transport, who have always been different) produced timetables to the same format. This followed from a major exercise involving Tilling, BET, SBG and other managements sitting down and agreeing to co-operate with something that they could see would help everybody.

Sadly, deregulation meant that the continuity was lost and, with local authorities and others also becoming involved, different ideas, such as a reversion to the 12 hour clock, meant that all the hard work was lost.

Anonymous said...

The good thing about modern timetables is that they can introduce colour to define journeys that are non-standard. This is often far easier for passengers to understand than a load of symbols.

dwarfer1979 said...

The use of H for Thursday almost certainly stems from the use of a standard computerised scheduling system for the planning of timetables & schedules. The system my employer uses, the most widely used I believe, has a single letter code for each day of the week and since there are two days which begin with T then a different code is needed for each (T for Tuesday & H for Thursday) - the same for Saturdays (S) & Sundays ($). Th would, to the system, mean Tuesdays & Thursdays only.

It is not a loss of scheduling expertise, merely the adoption of new technology that makes the process of producing accurate schedules & timetables faster & quicker. Using systems like this can help remove errors caused by multiple data entries as things are entered into separate systems manually - you prepare a timetable in the system & export that to the scheduling system & print the timetables for registrations & publicity all using the same base data file ensuring consistency across all applications. You can get designers involved in producing nicer looking publicity but that can take weeks and using the basic timetable printout means you can have changes up on your website in minutes after they are agreed.

fatbusbloke said...

you prepare a timetable in the system & export that to the scheduling system & print the timetables for registrations & publicity all using the same base data file ensuring consistency across all applications

From Dwarfer1979

Please NO! The bane of any bus user's life is incompetently presented timetables. Because of NaPTAN we have daft names for bus stops; because of some grotty pogram or other we no longer show loops properly; because of poor database construction we have rubbish journey planner answers.

If we want folk to (a) understand timetables and thus (b) travel on buses, then PLEASE employ someone who (a) knows where the buses go and (b) has the brains to explain it to the Elsie Migginses who pay the most of the fares.

Some all-too-typical Sheffield garbage is referred to here:-

http://publictransportexperience.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/january-changes-in-sheffield-ps-and.html

Anonymous said...

The requirement for a single character day reference stems not directly from the standard computerised scheduling system but from the fact that such a system has not been designed with regard to long established and recognised practice. Don't blame the computer - it is merely a tool.
That's not to say that things shouldn't change if the change is needed, but "H" for Thursday is counter-intuitive. To me, my instant reaction is H for holiday.

Countrybus said...

Well I'm guessing your nostalgic example was from H&D 58 / 59 or 226 . . . (-:

Anonymous said...

Anon 07:57 is right...... and the First 777 timetable shown is a perfect example of where colour would have been much easier to follow.

'H' representing Thursday is not intuitive, it's not customer-firendly, it's jargon. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

TThFS? NMW, surely!

Anonymous said...

MWX!

Tim Burns said...

Taken to extreme, codes can be confusing. I seem to recall some of Eastern National's rural routes had journeys shown in the timetable with only one timing point - a code on top (showing where it started) and a code underneath (showing where it ended). Just not very easy to read.

Stagecoach seem to be good with there timetables these days. Colour and borders used to indicate differences, with a words at the end of a line from the time column, saying exactly what the difference is. Easy to read, easy on the eye.

Finally I guess routes are designed these days to have less variations any way, meaning that the need for codes is much reduced

Anonymous said...

In my timetable producing days we took a file out of the schedules sysetem and imported into desktop publishing software. I then manipulated the codes from what the computer produced into something more customer focused. H for Thursday is pretty standard on at least two systems i've used. As someone has already pointed out these systems are tools to speed up the process and rpoduce useful Managment Information. There should still be a human being proff reading and making it presentable and understandable to the public.

dwarfer1979 said...

FBB - 2 different things from 2 different organisations. Your problems with NAPTAN, Traveline & local council publicity are down to organisations unrelated to the operation of the services getting involved and not knowing the networks and relying on computer systems instead. No operator I know uses Naptan stop names in their publicity, they are idiotic most of the time.

I was referring to a system used by the one group in any company who know where all the routes go - the schedulers & planning team, they plan the routes, prepare all the paperwork for registrations and schedule the vehicles & staff to cover it. That rather than rely on someone manually copying a timetable, with the risks of typing errors, you can quickly run off a base file which has all the correct information. It means rather than 4-6 weeks (for an outside designer) or 1-2 weeks (for an internal fudged up design from the marketing team) you can have a timetable available immediately - for special events or emergency changes (or to have details of normal changes more than a couple of weeks in advance) you have an accurate basic timetable available. When producing normal publicity this is just the base start data but it then needs people who think both about how to show the information to the customer & what the vehicles do in real life to show it properly (marketing people think of the former, operations people know the latter and if one doesn't ask the other the right question the issue gets confused) but you can't just assume an apparent loop will actually be so, you can't tell from the registration but you can have the situation with interworkings of buses looping in one direction & not the other or only on certain journeys or only in certain directions - the risk of assumptions are always there.

The point is that in the example shown from First it was a special event service operating for 3 days only, previously when everything had to be done separately it would have just got left off as not worth the cost or hassle of preparing something public. With these systems we can have something, that whilst not a wizzy design all personalised & fettled, can be made available immediately at no extra cost (& no matter how basic your modified publicity version would be, it would incur a cost in someones time if nothing else) and you can be confident it is accurate without additional checking.

Stephen said...

Re my comment at 0740 and Countrybus's later comment.
I have now found the extract in a 1966 timetable but with the addition of another note as it was the summer version as follows:-
*-These journeys are extended to and from Calshot Beach,only during the period from 24th July,1966 to 3rd September 1966.I assume that as H & D timetables usede a different layout before June 1965 that this note appeared from the June 1965 timetable.
However no luck yet with W & D's F

Anonymous said...

The use of H and T for Thursday and Tuesday stem from the maximum of 4 characters available for day codes in the industry leading software referred to. Virtually every possible combination of days can be created using 4 characters with the N for NOT being available to use. Additionally the use of C (college) or V (vacation) allows similar flexibilty but Sch and NSch are also availble to use if you don't need to combine them with other day codes. If you dont need all 4 then Tu and Th are also in the default settings.
Using the same industry leader's timetable software, you can set a conversion table that changes stop names to something more public friendly where you need to improve on Naptan during the import process. With this you can import quickly and refine slowly.
With regard to Naptan, yes it can be clunky because of the way it has to be set up with regard to National gazeteer localities, road names and the final "short name" but it's also organic in that it can be changed when necessary to reflect changes on the street.
In my capacity as Naptan manager for Dorset i undertook a full consultation with my biggest three operators to agree the final Naptan short name was sensible to use in timetables, on bus stop flags and on in bus displays for RTI, and in all cases there is provison to set up meaningful over rides to add extra qualifying information where helpful.
I disagree with FBB's stand that Naptan is inherently rubbish, because i put a lot of effort in to maintaining my bit of it in consultation with my operators. However I do agree with his assertions that one set of data does not fit all purposes. There is a need to ensure that loops, are set up correctly, and that services that run on to each other are correctly connected.
I suppose i am fortunate in that despite now being a Local Authority employee charged with delivering Naptan and Traveline for all of Dorset plus most of the data in two real time schemes I can count on 40 years in the industry including 10 with one of my main operators. I also have a good working relationship with them based on mutually beneficial work and regular face to face meetings.
I know that this is not the case throughout the country but don't tar us all with the same brush.

Ken - Traveline Dorset

northerner said...

Hello Ken

Fine but not all Councils share your concerns for accuracy of bus stop naming, positioning, creation within NAPTAN or whatever.

One of the local authorities I deal with (ironically the best in many other ways) falls down badly in this respect.

I've been nagging on about two roads full of stops simply not on Naptan for nearly a year, two (badly) misplaced stops (which prevent our real time info from working properly) for over nine months now.

I'm rerouting a service soon and will need a new stop for a timing point. God knows when or how I'll get it...they're all promises and no action.

I've complained at all levels until I'm blue in the face...and don't even mention silly stop names.

Anonymous said...

Hi Northener. It's a shame when your Local Authority isn't as helpful as it should be. Have you raised this with the Traffic Commissioners at all. I would need to be in the office and consult Croners but I believe local authorities have a duty to issue new Naptan numbers promptly as they are an integral part of the EBSR process where used, and also are an (as yet not compulsory) requirement for the starting points of services on form PSV350.
They also feed downstream to SMS codes and on to end users like Google maps as well as for Traveline journey planners.
I agree with your real time comments. It's especially bad if your buses announce the next stop. In some of my rural areas we're turning up some howlers due to historic Naptan oddities which my "man at the company" is checking.
Best of luck and keep pushing.
Ken - Traveline Dorset

N90734 said...

A pity that the "industry-leading" software tail is wagging the sharp-end, customer dog.

If the industry got together as it did when the sensible, standardised timetable format was devised in the 1960s/1970s, I'm sure the software provider could be made to see the error of their ways.

The computer is the tool, not the master!

One other point is that the use of colour has to be carefully thought through, bearing in mind the visually-disabled.

Michael Meilton said...

OK – some feedback from a “industry leading software” spokesman! From what is being said I assume we are talking about us at Omnibus www.omnibus.uk.com if you want to have a look at the website.

Interesting the assumption that we are software people and none of us have any schedules experience – I have worked in a schedules office for over 30 years before moving over to spend the past 10 years with Omnibus. I am not unique, of our staff of 30 at least 13 of us have worked in scheduling and are passionate about having tools that are easy for the schedulers to use BUT also give the ability to produce the sort of publicity we all want. We have, for example, the tools to turn NapTAN names for stops into sensible ones and many more that gives the users the ability to produce good effective publicity which Ken has mentioned earlier.

It is true we use H for Thursday and actually $ for Sunday INTERNALLY in the software but that never reaches the public domain. The user can have Th for Thursday as a trip code and that is what will print out on all documents – so the First timetable earlier could have had WTh or ThF as the codes –IF THE COMPANY HAD WISH. That is the point, we provide tools, but it is the users who decide how to use them. The codes as shown on the earlier timetable are decoded so there is nothing wrong , just not the way we, as old bus men, would have expected them (and I agree to me WTh and ThF would have been more logical BUT it is the companies choice).

As Ken also says there is a limit to 4 letters for the day code to be printed which is because it is usually above a trip which will have 4 figures for the time, thus it will give a neat presentation, which we all agree is important. Given the ability to use N, to signify not, this does give you enough flexibility for most situations although you have to be inventive at times with things like “Not Wednesday and Friday College Days”. Again users can set their own codes (up to 4 characters) so they control what the public sees.

We also do bus stop displays – which is a whole new area of debate. We have several styles developed over the years to meet the needs of clients! Some styles may not be our personal choice but the client usually has made considered reasoning for the style they adopt, be it a matrix timetable or just a departure list from the stop. We do a lot of work to produce templates that meet client’s needs.

I don’t actually agree with N90734 that “that the "industry-leading" software tail is wagging the sharp-end, customer dog”.

There are a lot of good people out there trying very hard to do their jobs well. I have every sympathy for those in the industry and Local Authorities who are expected to do more and more whilst having less and less resource to do it. I suspect the person who originally kept the NapTAN up to date left a few rounds of budget cuts ago and now it is a task that has to be fitted in!

These are personal views – not those of my employer. I too regret the passing of the timetable book.. but if you want one – we have a program that can do that from the timetable data!,

Michael Meilton

Omnibus

RC169 said...

First of all, welcome back Busing!

I think Michael Meilton makes some valid points. In my experience of working with computer software for almost 25 years (most of it unconnected to the bus industry), one recurring problem is that customers purchase (or rent) software, but are not prepared to pay enough to train their employees to use it properly. Thus, functionality that might improve the end-user experience is missed, or not exploited, and end-users are given the impression that the software is inflexible.

Of course I could own up to the fact that I try to use Microsoft Word for internal purposes at my place of work, and the lack of training means that I am probably not as efficient as I might be. That's perhaps not so serious, but in the cases being discussed here, end users (passengers) are getting poorer quality information, and that could affect the bottom line.

Incidentally, Michael - I had a quick look at your site. I would definitely be inclined to update the date on the copyright notice at the bottom of the page. Showing '2008' probably doesn't give the up-to-date impression that I'm sure you wish to create!

N90734 said...

Thank you Michael for posting from the "other side".

I would always have assumed scheduling software suppliers were schedulers at heart rather than software developers.

My comment led from that at 08:10. From what you are saying, it is the "user" (at the bus operator) who is at fault.

But perhaps this is a different problem - inexperienced staff, either in scheduling, the presentation of information to the public .... or in the use of the scheduling software.