Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Trials and Tribulations at the Bus Station

Lancaster bus station is equipped with a very useful overhead electronic display screen, telling passengers the times of buses due to depart, their destinations and which stand to find them at. It's particularly useful for those who have a choice of services and just need to know which one will be next without traipsing round several stands to consult - and remember - the paper departure lists. New and occasional passengers also find it very useful, but recent developments mean they should take care!

Having been abandoned by the County Council as part of its expenditure cutbacks the screen is now maintained by Lancaster University, with funding from United Utilities after a campaign by passengers to get it reinstated.  The University has the laudable aim of adding Real Time information to the display so that users know not just the time the bus is due to leave, but a prediction of when it might actually do so.  Stagecoach has recently made this information available via its website using data collected from GPS-equipped ticket machines that continuously report their position - and therefore that of the bus - allowing information as to where the bus is to where the timetable says it should be - and it is this that the University is attempting to incorporate onto the system.

Following a revamp earlier in the year the departure screens looked like this:

Only scheduled departure times were shown and the destinations were shown in an odd way that prioritised the stop location over the town the bus was heading for. So in the image above the 1900, 1928, and two 1930 departures are all shown as going to "Bus Station" and only in parentheses to their actual destinations of Preston, Morecambe, Kendal and, er...Lancaster - this last being another failure of the system that appears to consider several Lancaster local services as circulars, which they aren't.

At the beginning of October the screen layout was changed to incorporate real time information, where this was available.

It showed scheduled times of departure and in the next column either "on time" or, as in the case of the 1658 service 2 to Heysham (top right), a predicted actual time, although this would have been more useful if the journey concerned had been shown in timetable order (i.e. before the 1700 to the University on the left hand side of the display) rather than predicted time order). 
As can be seen from the image a significant number of buses had no real time prediction shown, presumably due to a breakdown in communication somewhere between the on-bus GPS signal and the display itself. What isn't so apparent however is that several significant services seem to have disappeared from the screen altogether - The 1710 service service 40 to Preston, 1715 service 80 to Ingleton and 1715 service 555 to Ambleside are all missing!

Following an email from the Bus Users Group, more recently the Display has reverted to scheduled times only

Some of our concerns appear to have been acted upon. Buses now go to "Morecambe (Bus Station)" and "Preston (Bus Station)" etc rather than the other way round (although the 49 seems to go to "Railway Station (Carnforth)")  and local services 7 and 11  go to "Vale Estate" and "Marsh Estate" rather than Lancaster Bus Station. Service 41 to Preston has reappeared but some important services are still missing such as 555 to Keswick (no 1115 departure shown above) and 81 to Kirkby Lonsdale (again no 1115 departure). A separate visit also showed a service 42 departure to Blackpool shown incorrectly as heading to Garstang, due to a failure by the system to cope with the fact that service 42 is registered as two separate services either side of the town, whilst buses operate as a through service.

After the Bus Users Group pointed out that the system appeared to be being tested on an unsuspecting public some notices have appeared warning that "some of the departure stands shown for services may not be correct"  but as yet there is nothing to warn passengers that several important services are missing altogether.

The Bus Users Group strongly supports the incorporation of real time data into the display and welcomes the initiative by the University to do so. We hope that the system will be fully up and running very shortly - and that ALL services from the Bus Station will be included in it!

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