I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that fewer people use paper train timetables than used to.
The proliferation of departure information via the official web sites, Google Maps and the official Journey Planner, as well as the official app (with its real time information) and many other apps, means people can get that information far more readily than they used to.
Some stations also have frequent services all day, so why would you even bother checking?
Here’s my totally unscientific Twitter poll the other day:
How do you check #MetroTrains train times? ?
Or are your usual trains frequent enough that you don't bother?
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) August 31, 2017
— It’s doubly unscientific because a poll online will get responses from people who are online. Many of the people who do use paper timetables are unlikely to see it and respond.
But it’s still interesting to see how many respondents never look at paper timetables, preferring online — 85% total — options that didn’t exist a generation ago.
It’s also interesting that quite a few people just go to the station — with or without assistance from apps — thanks to high-frequency services.
Anyway… some people still use paper timetables, so they need to be produced, and should be up to a high standard.
Which brings me to the current timetables. A new Metro timetable started on Monday, and Metro has duly published paper timetables, as well as pushing the information via all the other media.
But flicking through the paper timetables, I found a number of issues. Here’s a few scans from the Craigieburn and Upfield line timetable booklet.
Actually apparently they’re not a timetable anymore, they’re “Train guides”. But no matter.
Here’s the abstract map in the front of the booklet. I suppose these are trying to give you a context for where in Melbourne each line runs. But they over-simplify the line’s direction (the Upfield line runs almost due north), they only list a station or two, and the kilometre distances (a bit hard to see in the scan) are inaccurate in some of the other line booklets.
Why are these two lines in the same booklet anyway? Despite the description, they are not part of the same line. They share no stations outside the central area (if you include North Melbourne). Online, neither PTV nor Metro treat them as one.
Do local train users treat them as one line? Judging from the number of peak services (Craigieburn has three times as many as Upfield), it seems the demand in peak is totally different, so I’d guess not.
Listing Craigieburn and Upfield together makes the timetables harder to read. I seem to recall these lines have been lumped together since at least The Met days. It appears to be for operator convenience, not for the benefit of passengers.
And why only mention interchange to the Sunbury line? What about Werribee and Williamstown?
The text describing the operating hours appears to be correct, but overly-complicated. I wonder if a better way of presenting this could have been found:
The line map showing all the stations on the line/s is severely broken. These are presumably inspired by the new(ish) network map:
Let’s leave aside the tiny coloured train interchange dots, which I doubt are very useful to people.
The problem is the map itself. In reality, travelling citybound, if you turn left from North Melbourne, you’ll head into Flagstaff, not Southern Cross.
If you’re going outbound and turn left from North Melbourne, you’ll be headed towards Craigieburn, not Upfield.
The whole thing is backwards. If you flipped it horizontally, it’d be accurate!
It turns out that many of the booklets have things muddled up. Here’s Cranbourne/Pakenham. The City Loop is right, but the outer branches are the wrong way around:
All the booklets for lines through North Melbourne have the City Loop oriented the wrong way around. And the Werribee/Williamstown booklet has shuffled its branches around too:
Train maps are often abstract, and not to scale. But they should at least present the stations in the correct order, and reflecting actual geographic directions, not getting them backwards or back-to-front.
The Werribee/Williamstown issue has at least been acknowledged, but how do these things get into print?
The map certainly does have those lines the wrong way around. We're passing the feedback on.
— Metro Trains (@metrotrains) August 29, 2017
Moving on… This description of the City Loop tells you how the trains on this line run when Citybound, but not Outbound. Until the Loop runs in a consistent manner, this will be confusing. Would a diagram with arrows have been better?
I know that Night Train services (introduced 2016) are technically different to the Midnight to 1am services (introduced 2006), but they operate on exactly the same nights, so to reduce passenger confusion, it’d make sense to brand them the same, and show them the same way in the timetables. For now however, only the services introduced in 2016 are shaded blue.
They do get marks for indicating that Night Train services continue over the page.
I’ll just mention again that putting Craigieburn and Upfield train times in one booklet makes it harder to read.
In my skimming, I haven’t found errors in the train times themselves, but they usually do a good job on this bit.
However bus timetables are another matter. Craig Halsall on Twitter is logging scores of errors in timetables and maps around the network. PTV should offer him a job.
Many may be getting their train timetable information elsewhere, but print train timetables will be with us for a while yet.
And no matter what the medium, authorities need to clearly and accurately convey service information. The colours and fonts chosen mean the booklets look nice. But there are so many little issues — they really need to do better.