19 December 2010


The more eagle-eyed blog readers may have noticed that the electronic destinations used to state the ultimate destination of coach services operating for National Express have recently been altered to include at least one calling point. "440 London", for example, is no longer accepted. A calling point needs adding "440 London via Leicester" seems to be the norm.

It would appear that National Express made a conscious decision to ask all its third party contractors operating approved coaches with electronic destination equipment to thusly modify their displays at the start of November. Words in capitals have now been outlawed, as had been the case with destination displays of all media for a number of years as a result of DiPTAC legislation. Scrolling displays, which are sure to only confuse those with a visual impairment more, are now accepted.

There are two distinct camps emerging: those who think this is a complete waste of time and that it serves to only complicate matters for the passengers and those who do not. Clearly are in the latter camp - it may even have been instigated as a result of passenger requests.

You may be forgiven for thinking NX's coach services are London-centric. While a sizeable proportion of the company's network radiates from the Captial, a look through the (now only downloadable) Coach Guide shows just how many services have nothing to do with London.

A large chunk of the network operates cross-country, for where an ultimate destination point is far more meaningless than 'London'. Last year, the LEYTR Top 'n' Tail jaunt saw us catch the former glory that was the 336 service, between Edinburgh and Penzance. Our Plaxton Paragon-bodied Volvo B12M operated by First Devon & Cornwall accordingly displayed "336 Penzance" though this was solely for our benefit as the first passengers for the Cornish town didn't board until Manchester Airport. We'd also estimate about 90% of those who boarded in total did not travel to Penzance either.

But with so many places being passed en route, where do you start when choosing a calling point to display? Admittedly the service now terminates at Plymouth, but what do you state? Glasgow? Manchester? Birmingham? Bristol? All four, scrolling beneath 'Penzance'? There are many other services that have a headache similar to this. Service 339 links Grimsby with Westward Ho! and calls at many places en route. Do you state via Lincoln? Lecicester? Birmingham? Bristol? Bideford? All five?

Do you state the largest - if so, Birmingham? But this would become meaningless for all passengers boarding after this point. This has now come to play on London-based routes heading north. Service 448 London-Grimsby now shows "448 Grimsby via Peterborough", yet Peterborough (the largest point served en route) is the first stop; thereafter a total 21 localities are served with a far more meaningless destination showing that had hitherto been the case.

Transport for London takes the exact opposite view to NX. They have reduced their calling points displayed to nil on most routes over the past few years, with the change generally taking place when new vehicles are entered into service. TfL said at the time that calling points become too confusing for tourists who will see "Piccadilly Circus" shown on a bus' display and board only to find they're travelling in the wrong direction. TfL's preferred option is for the ultimate point to be shown and nothing else.

Of course older coaches with the more traditional roller blind destinations are currently exempt from the latest ruling from Birmingham; they'll naturally become extinct with vehicle renewals.

Surely one way NX could have got round the confusion "336 Plymouth" causes passengers travelling between Carlisle-Stoke is to state on the passenger's ticket the ultimate destination of the coach they will be catching. Most train operators' websites have the function to look-up the complete list of calling points for the service in question - as does NX's own excellent coach division website. A simple extension to the ticketing where the service number is stated is all that is needed "Service: 336. Coach will display Plymouth on its destination screen."

As it is now, more wording is being crammed into a small space, making the font smaller than it had previously been - sure to only confuse passengers further. At the very least, services radiating from London should have been left alone, certainly London-bound. We believe there is no such thing as a one-solution-fits-all in this situation and that a partial re-think is needed.


Captain Kirk said...

"To thusly modify"?

"To only confuse"? (Twice!!)

"To only complicate matters"?

Not wishing to unnecessarily make a parallel, but this from the people who actually make hay to actually complain of Stagecoach Bus' incorrect use of the apostrophe!

Liam said...

Why can't NX do something we see on the railways - a larger screen with destinations (3 lines which scroll if needs be) by the door. The need for major destinations on the front is greatly reduced as the coach spends most of its time on the Motorway (or other similar road where its not going to stop to pick up passengers).

The majority of people are going to read the destinations in a bus/coach station when the coach is stationary. Those services which stop at normal bus stops in some towns will still have a destination on the front as usual, so not see any difference

Anonymous said...

"look through the (now only downloadable) Coach Guide shows just how many services have nothing to do with London."

Would anyone happen to know the link where the Coach Guide is downloaded from?

JohnnyB said...

@Captain Kirk - surely too many actuallies in your final sentence???

Anonymous said...

I think this a very informative and well-written blog. If a few split infinitives are the only cause for concern, I'm happy with that. So many blogs make for a poor reading experience. It's nice to find one that is generally excellent. A couple of others exist, too - Omnibuses being the one that springs to mind. One request though, can we have more regular posts please.