Monday, 30 April 2018

Next Stop Please! (Whatever it's called)

The Bus Users' Group has long held the view that one of the biggest barriers to people using buses for the first time - or to go somewhere they haven't been before by bus - is uncertainty and the fear of waiting in the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong bus.

The best way of overcoming this is to ensure that information - on where stops are, when buses run  and which bus goes where - is presented logically, clearly and consistently.  Consistency is important because research has shown that a prospective passenger will often make several enquiries, using different sources, before committing themselves to an unfamiliar journey. Unfortunately some bus operators - and other information providers -  don't help here, especially when it comes to telling people where to wait.

Once public transport information started to become available online the need to identify the name and location of bus stops became apparent. The location of every stop in Britain is now contained in a database, together with a unique identity code and an official stop name. This data is made available to online map providers, such as Google Maps and is a great help to passengers needing to find out exactly where their buses go from (and arrive at).

Here are some screenshots from Google Maps showing the stop at Carlisle Bridge on the Lancaster to Morecambe road.
Bus stop locations clearly shown
Clicking on the stop symbol brings up information
(note the stop name and ID code)

A third click gives you the times.

For this system to work to maximum potential the bus stop names need to be shown consistently across all sources of information.  A potential passenger that has discovered via Google Maps or Traveline that he needs to catch a bus at, say, "Carlisle Bridge" would be disconcerted if he or she then discovered that the stop had been given a different name on the "bus stop" sign or in the timetable leaflet they had also consulted.  This can happen. One of the Bus Users' Group's first projects was to get Lancashire County Council and Stagecoach to agree on common stop names for a lengthy section of Greaves Road in Lancaster where some stops had one name on the map, another one on the sign and sometimes a third on the shelter or the timetable display!

For reasons best known to themselves, bus companies have been slow to adopt the official names in many cases.  Perhaps it's a case of "not invented here" as stops are named by the county council, which controls the database. As we shall see, in some cases the official names appear to have been arrived at without the benefit of local knowledge and therefore don't match the names used by passengers (who ought to know best!).

But the BUG was pleased to see that in the latest (22 April 2018) Stagecoach timetable leaflet for services 6/6A (Lancaster - Westgate - Morecambe) a number of timing points have been renamed and now follow the official designations in the national database.
Compare  the previous (29th January)  timetable. . . .

. . . with the latest version:

Ignore, for the moment, the use of "Lancaster, City Centre Bus Station". This description, with varying punctuation ("Lancaster City Centre,  Bus Station" at times) replaced the former "Lancaster, Bus Station" on most, but not all, timetables in the January editions. The BUG doesn't think this is a good idea. It's not the official name, it suggests that Lancaster might have more than one bus station, which is not the case and whatever its other merits the station itself is not particularly "central" to the shopping area.

On a more positive note, "Westgate, Gringley Road" has become "Westgate, Hawkshead Drive", which is its official name. There is more than one stop on Gringley Road so the new designation makes it clearer where the timing point actually is.  Similarly, "Westgate, Bartholomew Road" has replaced "Westgate, Hampsfell Drive/Altham". Again the name now matches that shown on the map, whilst "Morecambe, Morrisons" is now "Morecambe, Festival Market" which not only matches the name shown on the map but actually makes it clear which side of the dual-carriageway Central Drive is being referred to.

But this policy, whilst welcome, is not without its pitfalls.  Take the stop at "Asda, Lancaster". This stop also serves the nearby Salt Ayre Leisure Centre and prior to January was described in timetables as "Asda / Salt Ayre Leisure Centre". The use of the official name (with "Lancaster" added) unfortunately means that there is now no reference to the Leisure Centre in the timetable at all.  Similarly, there is now no reference to Hampsfell Drive in the timetable, despite this being shown as the destination on the front of service 6 buses. (Perhaps a simple "Westgate" would be better?)
There is another problem with "Asda" in that the two stops on Northgate, on the opposite side of Ovangle Road, also served by the 6A, are also officially designated "Asda" thus creating confusion as to where the timing point actually is.  The solution here is for the county council to redesignate the stop outside Asda as "Asda / Salt Ayre Leisure Centre" and to rename those on Northgate, perhaps after the large AXA Insurance building that is adjacent?  

In the new 6A timetable "Westgate, Altham Road" has been replaced with "Westgate, William Mitchell", which is a local pub. As well as matching the national database, the pub is a much better landmark for intending passengers. But here again there are problems:

The timing point "William Mitchell"for buses heading towards Morecambe is the stop immediately to the left of the pub shown on the map. However, the two stops either side of the "Payphone" symbol on Westgate itself are also designated "William Mitchell" thus introducing an element of confusion into where to wait. Despite being nearer to the pub than either of the stops on Westgate, the stop on Altham Road for buses coming from Morecambe (shown above opposite Holmside Avenue) is named simply "Altham Road".  Stagecoach, quite sensibly, uses "William Mitchell" for both directions.

Another issue with stop names is keeping them up to date.  This can be tricky: passengers will sometimes insist on using old names for stops long after the feature they were named after has disappeared. But sometimes a new landmark is so obvious that it passes quickly into informal use and displaces the old, official name.  There is an example on the 6/6A on Morecambe promenade:

The bus stop outside Aldi on Marine Road West, is a timing point on service 6 to Westgate and 6A to Lancaster and on previous timetables was shown, unsurprisingly, as "Morecambe, Aldi". However, its official name on the national database is "Morecambe, Empire Shopping" (the stop across the road used by buses in the opposite direction is "Empire Shops"!) and Stagecoach's leaflet has been changed to come into line.  But here is a classic case of official names not keeping pace with reality. The "Empire Shopping Arcade" was the building behind Aldi, back towards the Midland Hotel. "Was" because it is no more, having been demolished to make way for a bigger Aldi store currently under construction!
The developer's impression of the new Aldi on the site of Empire Shopping Parade

Presumably the present Aldi shop will close when the new one opens. The "Empire Shopping Arcade" is already no more and soon the Aldi that gave its name to the bus stop will disappear. At the very least Stagecoach seems to have chosen an unfortunate time to re-name the stop!

But despite the difficulties, the Bus Users' Group feels that Stagecoach's approach is the right one. We will be taking up the issue of the out-of-date or inappropriate stop names with the county council and hope that Stagecoach, and other bus companies, will continue to move towards ensuring the stop names in their timetables (and on their tickets) match those that appear in the national database.

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