Yellow Buses will again be at selected timing points this morning to hand out YB Valentine’s cards & red roses. The winner of the deliberately corny card poem competition, centre, is actually an EFL teacher and not one of the students!Yet, there seems to be a tendency in some areas to reduce the number of timing points in a public timetable. The reasons an operator may choose to do this could be:
- Timetables with a large proportion of timing points are more prone to punctuality problems, as drivers arrive either early or late. There’s reduced scope for passengers to be cheesed off or a driver to need to make alterations.
- Where there is likely to be punctuality problems, why create a rod for your own back by lacing the timetable with unnecessary timing points. This might simply result in a bus compliance monitor clobbering you, something that might even end up at a punctuality-related public inquiry (though, statistically, the likelihood of such inspections remains small and is falling).
- Where there is actually nowhere easy or safe for a bus to layover to wait for time. In such circumstances, it seems rather pointless in keeping the timing point if it cannot live up to its name.
I’m sure readers can come up with routes or operators that have seen diminishing numbers of timing points (and a consequent lengthening of gaps between those that remain).
While there may be sound operational reasons to reduce to the number of timing points to an absolute minimum,the other side of the coin is just how a new or occasional passenger feels when they are faced with timing points 15 minutes apart (the current maximum allowable by VOSA). At the best of times, it’s difficult enough for a prospective passenger to interpret a timetable. Create gaps by offering fewer timing points and you may not be attracting infrequent or chance users. Set the timing point away from the suburban centre because there’s a problem waiting there you face possibly further alienating the passenger. Where frequencies are high, there’s less of a problem. Infrequent routes combined with fewer timing points may cause significant issues.
The answer, of course, lies with technology. Smartphones and the right apps can give you a stop-by-stop timing breakdown. This cannot be wholly accurate but it certainly helps. Real time information countdowns, where they exist, have an added benefit. The fact remains that older passengers are least likely to have a smartphone. It is they who rely on a timetable.
Where timing points are reducing, has the industry got it right in offering a timetable that is overall more robust and punctual? Or have we lost something because of the reduction in the timing point? Is it operational over passenger needs? Which is it to be: a passenger reference point or a way of operators measuring their performance? It seems it can no longer be both.