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Transport Benevolent Fund - 2019
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May 08 2019
By Leon Daniels

Leon has enjoyed a stellar career within the bus industry, including a spell as Managing Director of Surface Transport for Transport for London. He writes a column for routeone in his capacity as an Advisor to Optibus.

We must strike a balance in information provision

The industry’s move towards presenting information digitally is relentless – but it shouldn’t forget some people’s need for print media and it should also remember that clarity is always key, says Leon Daniels

When done well, printed media remains a great way to communicate

An information conundrum now faces operators. The world of printed timetables and maps, destination indicators and stop displays is being replaced by instant information.

There is no doubt that the old order was incomprehensible to many. Since it was static information, it represented only the plan, and not the execution.

As a result, it was often disregarded or ridiculed. Perhaps the biggest weakness was that it was specified and prepared by transport experts, and quite often missed its target market. There is still too much of that.

But technology does now put accurate and real-time information in the hands of most users. Any self-respecting operator or authority has a journey planner and some provision of real-time information. A short step also often takes you to a ticket purchase opportunity.

But the real question is how much of the modern information should replace static information? Most obviously, there are those for whom the internet or a mobile phone are not accessible. But there remains a need for passengers to be reassured that the plan they are following is the right one. Thus, permanent signage at bus stops remains valuable.

Information on buses has taken advantage of digital media, and now the clarity and contrast of printed destination blinds is equalled by electronic media after years of grim compromise.

However, digital media that is out of control presents a poor image. One must hope that the same adherence to good design applies digitally as in print.

London has trialled dynamic information at bus stops. The advantage is that redundant information can be omitted and useful information enhanced. Moreover, stops can be closed and diversion arrangements can be made available immediately – and most importantly, removed afterwards.

But perhaps what is missing is a clear strategy for information. There should be an attempt to harmonise the standards of information presented nationally, and in some harmony with other transport providers, particularly rail.

What information is provided dynamically, statically, and whether it should be on bus or on infrastructure (or both), should at least be subject to some minimum standards.

Journey planners should also take greater care to think about the names by which places are properly named, and what is common parlance. Journey planners often require too great a level of absolute accuracy. I want to visit places where I have never needed to know the postcode.

One must also note that infinite, accurate, in-your-hand digital media does not guarantee ridership growth and financial success. Whereas in the past we would wait at a bus stop in blissful ignorance, information in your hand that tells you that the bus is 20 minutes away will cause you to walk – and deny the operator of its revenue.

As ever with technology, two steps forward…

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Transport Benevolent Fund - 2019