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Author Topic: The challenge of making total journeys work!  (Read 793 times)
grahame
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« on: February 14, 2021, 10:41:21 pm »

Public transport needs to be good, easy to find out about, and well priced, and working end to end if we're going to encourage people to use it for their own journeys in the future.  I will use public transport if I can. There are other who will never use public transport. And there are so many in between who will use if convenient, but not go out of their way to do so - they'll perhaps believe that others should put themselves out to use it far more that they should.

I was on the "Connecting Wiltshire" website earlier today and looked up a fictictious journey from my home to Swindon, pretending to visit a friend there.  The site tells me it's 46 minutes to drive.  For public transport, there were four offerings ... some very ingenious ...



So instead of 46 minutes, that's 131 minutes, 104 minutes, 126 minutes and 121 minutes being offered to me.

The problem is ... missing connections that send the time skyrocketing beyond what most people will accept, and there's a little warning about price on the web site too:
Quote
PLEASE NOTE: This journey could be an expensive option as it includes multiple transport types (e.g. bus and train).

Are you starting to see what puts people off the train?  Problem is, though not only in the connections, not only in the price but also in the information systems.

What would I do, then?   Would I drive 46 minutes?  No! so - would I use one of the options suggested by Connecting Wiltshire?  No!  I would leave home at 4:40 and be in Swindon for 5:35 - 55 minutes; walk to the station for the train. Or I might cycle to the station - and that would be just 45 minutes - even quicker than driving. Same timing possible for a lift to the station too.

Public transport, then, very practical for the journey. But you need to know. The challenge is getting that information out for every end to end journey, the challenge is getting the connections to work; with the services infrequent in a Sunday, the least they should do is meet with each other. And the challenge is in getting the fares right for total journeys.
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grahame
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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2021, 09:07:38 am »

Oh dear!

Searching for a local business on Google, this gem came up.  Wrong for just about every reason - Google has me in Warminster but I'm just a ten minute walk or less from the destination place for starters. But just look at the public transport route.



Better?  Train from Warminster, change at Westbury, train to Melksham, 15 minute walk. Journey time 40 minutes plus change time at Westbury.  OR train to Trowbridge, bus to Melksham.  OR bus to Trowbridge, bus onwards to Melksham if you want to do it on one bus ticket.

Funnies will come up occasionally.  Sadly, they seem not  to be occasional but almost routine where I live.

Edit to correct worst of typos (dog kept nudging me as I posted the original. Isn't there a saying "A bad typist blames his dog")
« Last Edit: February 17, 2021, 09:43:12 am by grahame » Logged

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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2021, 04:12:31 pm »

I think your example highlights two things. Firstly the reason why private transport became so popular in the first place, providing a means of travel that will take you exactly where you want to go at exactly the time you want to go, and secondly the drawbacks and limitations of using third party websites to do your research for you. By their very nature they will provide a compromise that will suit as many enquirers as possible. Let me explain that latter point in more detail.

You have told the search engine that you wanted to go from your house to Swindon. As far as public transport is concerned, it appears to have started the journey from your closest bus stop. It has not taken into account, and nor (presumably) did you specify, how far you would be prepared to walk. The examples where the search engine is showing a longer travelling time from that bus stop than it would take you to walk it (eg to Melksham station) is not something you have asked it to do, and of course more generally not everybody can or would be prepared to walk that far anyway. Therefore in a manner of speaking, you got what you asked for.

Some of us have been researching journeys, both straightforward and more complicated, for over half a century. In pre-internet days we had to buy the appropriate timetables, or perhaps look at them in the local library of they kept them, or we could ask a travel agent to do it. By no means all of them were good at their job if you wanted anything out of the ordinary and not a fortnight’s full board in Torremolinos, but they did have the advantage of actually talking to a real person who could “filter your results” in response to questions (or your facial expressions!). A search engine can only respond to the information you give it.

But now we have the internet, one’s own research has become significantly easier too. All rail and bus timetables are now online, and they of course will contain recent updates that a search engine may have yet to catch up with. In my view (other views may well of course vary) search engines such as Connecting Wiltshire should only be used a guide to help in your own personal research and not relied upon as a definitive statement in themselves (especially such things as, for example, connection times if the search engine has erred on the side of caution with a tight connection). They cannot and will never be able to answer questions that were not asked, or to take individual circumstance such as mobility issues into account.

I shall end this long reply with an illustrative “f’rinstance.” It was early in 1967. Two of us decided that we wanted to go on the MRTS “Hants and Dorset Branch Flyer” on 25th March. We could easily get from Bristol to Southampton before 1045 that day, but we could not get back from Southampton to Bristol after 1900, the last train to Bristol in those days leaving Salisbury at 1830.

I looked at every option to get back to Bristol whilst the City bus services were still running (not much was still moving after 2300 in those days). Go via Basingstoke? No. Go via Dorchester? No. Via London was out of the question anyway because of cost. The only way I found to do it was train to Salisbury, Wilts & Dorset bus to Warminster, and then badger his father to come down to Warminster in his car and pick us up!

A travel agent wouldn’t have found that, a modern day computer would have said “No” and there would have been a couple of disappointed 15-year-olds if one of ‘em hadn’t thought outside the box.

And I would never have gone to Fawley by train; I would never have gone to Swanage in BR days, and my last trip over the S&D would have been a year earlier.

https://www.sixbellsjunction.co.uk/60s/670325mr.html


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johnneyw
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« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2021, 10:30:17 pm »

I'm reminded of when I started working at Aztec West and I carried out some research as to how I was actually going to get there as this was the furthest commuting distance in my career in a part of the Bristol area that I was (then) not over familiar with.
I decided to to go the journey planning part of the First Bristol Bus website for enlightenment and put my starting point as both my Redland address and because more buses run from there, the A38 Gloucester road, just over 1km away.  In both cases I got the sort of travel plan that would have been splendid had I asked for a day out exploring the delights of the South Gloucestershire/Bristol fringe by various buses and on foot.
As it happened, after a few enquiries to friends and colleagues, I soon found a number of relatively direct, if unreliable services, to my workplace without the Heath Robinson eccentricities.
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2021, 11:26:48 pm »

I’ve remembered another example that some may think unethical.

When I want to make a journey that is unusual for me (such as to Nottingham in 2018 when Derby station was closed for track realignment work and Birmingham to Nottingham trains rains were being diverted between Burton on Trent and Sheet Stores Junction at Trent over the usually freight only line via Swarkestone), I visit the split ticketing sites.

Once they’ve told me the stations that my trains have to stop at, I can then go to BR Fares or National Rail enquiries and get the actual prices for each leg, and then buy them myself.

It saves on the commission charges... Wink


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grahame
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« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2021, 01:22:12 pm »

Been a busy morning, Robin.  I agree with most of what you say, but will add a couple of further thoughts

As far as public transport is concerned, it appears to have started the journey from your closest bus stop.

Actually know - though with the quote I gave, you couldn't tell that.   Three different initial bus stops were use, and none of them the closest - four (perhaps six) closer stops were not used.

Quote
It has not taken into account, and nor (presumably) did you specify, how far you would be prepared to walk. The examples where the search engine is showing a longer travelling time from that bus stop than it would take you to walk it (eg to Melksham station) is not something you have asked it to do, and of course more generally not everybody can or would be prepared to walk that far anyway. Therefore in a manner of speaking, you got what you asked for.

Agreed

Quote
A search engine can only respond to the information you give it.

Quote
They cannot and will never be able to answer questions that were not asked, or to take individual circumstance such as mobility issues into account.

Now this is where I take some issue with you.   Have you ever noticed (on Google) "did you mean" where alternative searches are offered?  And whilst it may be beyond what current software does, it would be feasible and useful to add suggestions of alternative "fuzzy" journeys which don't quite match, links to follow if you wanted to look wider for alternatives, and (and some sites have this) an ability to tune parameters such as maximum walking distance, whether steps can be managed (to take wheelchair intolerant stations into account) etc.

Quote
I looked at every option to get back to Bristol whilst the City bus services were still running (not much was still moving after 2300 in those days). Go via Basingstoke? No. Go via Dorchester? No. Via London was out of the question anyway because of cost. The only way I found to do it was train to Salisbury, Wilts & Dorset bus to Warminster, and then badger his father to come down to Warminster in his car and pick us up!

And there you identify the most hugest of holes in total journey planning - the lift / drive / cycle to your starting NaPTAN (National Public Transport Access Node) or from the ending one to your final destination.  Reading your quoted text initially, I mistook it as being a car transfer with badgered father in the middle of a journey - Train, then car, then bus.   Online systems for such a scenario are, perhaps in the "never" category!
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grahame
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« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2021, 01:35:51 pm »

I'm reminded of when I started working at Aztec West and I carried out some research as to how I was actually going to get there as this was the furthest commuting distance in my career in a part of the Bristol area that I was (then) not over familiar with.

I decided to to go the journey planning part of the First Bristol Bus website for enlightenment and put my starting point as both my Redland address and because more buses run from there, the A38 Gloucester road, just over 1km away.  In both cases I got the sort of travel plan that would have been splendid had I asked for a day out exploring the delights of the South Gloucestershire/Bristol fringe by various buses and on foot.

As it happened, after a few enquiries to friends and colleagues, I soon found a number of relatively direct, if unreliable services, to my workplace without the Heath Robinson eccentricities.

The tragedy is that this sort of thing is far from exceptional.   Almost feels "the norm" at times.

I tend to use journey planners for ideas, filter out the sillies and investigate any of the remaining journeys in more detail. With evening journeys the other way last Autumn - the reverse of my example (Swindon to Melksham), I came up with direct train (obvious) but also route 401 National Express Coach on its daily journey at 20:05, and also train to Bath and then bus route 403.    Having gone up to Swindon direct by train, the prices were significantly raised by using differing routes but on these evenings time rather than immediate cost was more of a concern.
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2021, 08:56:37 pm »


Quote
A search engine can only respond to the information you give it.

Quote
They cannot and will never be able to answer questions that were not asked, or to take individual circumstance such as mobility issues into account.

Now this is where I take some issue with you.   Have you ever noticed (on Google) "did you mean" where alternative searches are offered?  And whilst it may be beyond what current software does, it would be feasible and useful to add suggestions of alternative "fuzzy" journeys which don't quite match, links to follow if you wanted to look wider for alternatives, and (and some sites have this) an ability to tune parameters such as maximum walking distance, whether steps can be managed (to take wheelchair intolerant stations into account) etc.
 

I can see where you are coming from but I don’t yet see how this would apply to a travel planner. Just to take an example, if I wanted to know something about Vera Lynn and put Feral Lin into a search engine then a phonetic search programme would ask me if that’s what I meant.

But I can’t see how that principle could migrate into a journey planner except perhaps to ask if you meant Swindon Wiltshire or Swindon Cheltenham Gloucestershire but I’m being pedantic there!

Presumably you can add parameters such as no walking/ up to x minutes walking, step free access needed, via or not via a certain point etc, but there will never be an “and also think of questions I haven’t thought of” option because the list would be a mile long!

As I see it, the basic public transport options for your Melksham to Swindon trip are as follows:

Bus or walk to Melksham station and go from there by train
Bus to Bath and go from there by train
Bus via Melksham Market Place to Chippenham and go from there by train
Bus via Melksham Market Place to Trowbridge and go from there by train

The “all the way by bus” options are as follows and some are more plausible than others. I have not included National Express or Megabus options because I know less than nothing about their routes and timetables.

Melksham Chippenham Swindon
Melksham Devizes (Avebury) Swindon
Melksham Devizes Calne Chippenham (and for that one if timings required it you could include an option to walk from the bottom of Caen Hill to Rowde)

Those are all the options I can think of. Can you think of any other sensible ones?





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grahame
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« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2021, 08:31:19 am »

I can see where you are coming from but I don’t yet see how this would apply to a travel planner.

In a similar way - not fuzzing the letters of the place name, but other parameters and offering "not quite" options.  Perhaps it's something that would need a research prototype / experiment to clarify - and it should then operate "under the hood" to give users better rather than much more complex choices.

Quote
As I see it, the basic public transport options for your Melksham to Swindon trip are as follows:

Quote
Those are all the options I can think of. Can you think of any other sensible ones?

Oh  yes ... I would drop some of yours but add others.  "Sensible" here is defined as "if I leave NOW, which gets me to Swindon next?" answered for all times of all days of the week, PLUS the same definition for ENCTS bus pass holders who want to make the journey without having to buy a ticket, PLUS routes that would fit the criteria given in the opposite direction.

Road alone ... would probably give you all of the following at certain times in the week

x34 Bus to Semington Corner, 49 bus to Swindon
x34 Bus to Chippenham, 55 bus to Swindon
x76 Bus to Avebury, 49 bus to Swindon
x76 Bus to Calne, 55 bus to Swindon
272/3 Bus to Devizes, 49 bus to Swindon
273 Bus to Box, x31 bus to Chippenham, 55 bus to Swindon
401 National Express

Bus and trains at various time would give
271/2/3 to Bath Spa, train to Swindon
x76 bus to Bath Spa, walk / short transfer bus to station, train to Swindon
x34 bus to Chippenham Station and train to Swindon
x34 bus to Chippenham centre, walk / short transfer bus to station, train
273 Bus to Box, x31 bus to Chippenham, train to Swindon
271/2/3/68/69 to Shurnhold, walk to Melksham station and train
14 to Roundpond, walk to Melksham station and train
14 to Asda, walk to Melksham station and train

There are further unlikely routings too - those above are just the probables!  Examples: x76 to Bromham, 33 to Devizes, 49 to Swindon could crop up if the 272 and 49 fail to connect in Devizes.  Or 68 or 69 to Corsham and x31 to Chippenham Station for the train to Swindon.


« Last Edit: February 19, 2021, 08:58:34 am by grahame » Logged

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