Good information is vital on public transport, but so often it’s incomplete or incorrect

There was a time when to plan a trip on public transport, you either had a paper copy of the relevant timetable(s), or you had to ring the information line 131-MET.

A generation before that, you’d have been able to ask your local station staff or tram or bus conductor, but they may have only known about their route.

These days the information is almost all electronic: on the web, on a mobile app, or on a screen or automated display (if there is one) at the station or stop. For most people this is preferred to any paper timetables that might be on display.

Ideally all this information is correct, and aligns. Each sign or screen should confirm what you knew before, and help lead you to where you’re going as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, often the information isn’t accurate, complete or relevant, and I’ve noticed a few instances of this recently.

The new trains aren’t on the apps

The shiny new Evolution HCMT trains run along the Dandenong line to Cranbourne and Pakenham. There’s now quite a few of them in service.

But they’re not appearing on the PTV app. Their services simply aren’t listed, leaving big gaping holes in the real-time list of departures.

PTV app showing citybound trains from Carnegie, with Evolution HCMT services missing

These departures are also not showing in the handy Ridespace web site, which is designed to show how the level of crowding on each service.

Google Maps can also show live train data. But they are sensible enough to supplement the real-time data with static timetable information, so they show all services, just with some missing the live departure time.

Evolution HCMTs missing from the PTV app is not a new problem – it’s been the case since the first of the new trains went into service about a year ago. But it’s got a lot worse since more of the trains have started running.

Similar problems are creeping in elsewhere. I noticed yesterday that the Smartbus sign at Bentleigh station is only showing some train departures, but not all.

Disruption! Go catch a bus!

Noticed on Sunday evening: the screens and automated announcements at Caulfield platform 1 suddenly started to claim that there was a disruption to trains to the City… and kept claiming it even as a citybound train arrived… and departed.

This led to considerable confusion for people waiting on the platform. The PSOs said that they hadn’t heard anything from Metro about it, and suggested that if in doubt, get on the train. This turned out to be wise advice.

Caulfield station platform 1: Displaying incorrect disruption information

Metro later said the error had been corrected.

I suspect the intention was to flag that some citybound trains (arriving from Dandenong on platform 3) were disrupted due to planned works. But the message went to all platforms, including where trains were not affected.

Worse, the message was very specific, advising passengers to go to the replacement bus stop. This was not correct for anybody on any platform at Caulfield.

For the people on platform 1, rather than the irrelevant and misleading information they were given, they could have been told that crosstown services were terminating at Flinders Street, not continuing to Werribee and Williamstown – due to a different set of planned works.

Buying a Myki

One normally tech-savvy and intelligent correspondent noted recently she had been defeated during the supposedly simple task of buying a Myki card at a station vending machine.

Why? Because after choosing to Buy a card (rather than Top-up a card), it displays Top-up options.

Huh? But I want to buy a card.

Buying a Myki: Top up Myki Money or Myki Pass?

Despite there being plenty of space on the screen at this point, it doesn’t give you the vital information: that you need to load some Money or a Pass onto the card when you buy it.

Even pressing the information link on the screen doesn’t adequately explain it. Unless you already know the answer, it just leaves some people thinking they’re on the wrong screen, so they’ll navigate back, and try again, until they give up.

Myki is more than 12 years old. Do they not do any usability testing on this stuff? (The web site is still glitchy too.)

The importance of clear, accurate information

Despite these problems I do think public transport information in Victoria has improved over the years.

There was a time when most bus stops didn’t have timetables – this was resolved some years ago. And there’s more real-time information available than ever before. Mostly, it’s accurate.

But it needs to be better. Even regular users making their regular trip need help sometimes, and for everybody else, it’s essential. If not done well, it becomes a barrier to people using the system.

So let’s hope it continues to improve.

Meanwhile, here’s a tiny sign outside my local station pointing to the Rail Replacement Bus Stop. It’s got incomplete information, and it contradicts another nearby sign that points in a different direction.

But that’s okay, because both are so small, and mounted so high that nobody’s likely to spot them.

Street exit to Bentleigh station - with tiny sign pointing to Train Replacement Bus Stop
Click to view this photo larger

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

6 replies on “Misinformation”

On rail replacement buses, a friend of mine in Brisbane remarked that their rail replacement buses are timetabled and this is evident during the Cross River Rail works. I know it’s probably a bit of a bigger effort to try but if Brisbane can do it, I wonder if that is possible here. At the very least at least we get a travel estimation on those travel disruption information posters so that’s something at least.

Some prominent locations still do not have any kind of information whatsoever.

Like Narre Warren, with interchange with buses from Fountain Gate S/C, still does not have any form of passenger informati8on, other than where you press a button to get it spoken to you.

We where upgraded to a premium station many years ago now, and yet, nothing. Now with grade separation going to be a thing at Narre Warren, perhaps in 10 years time, going by rumors, we may be lucky to get something in 12 years once that gets done???

Once last year and twice this I’ve boarded a train at Footscray showing the destination Frankston to leave the train at South Yarra, as did the public platform displays and in the last case a week at least, showing every station along the Frankston route. These three times the train terminated at Flinders Street and was destined to return to the west. The first time something just did not seem right when we arrived at Flinders Street, with some confusion among the remaining passengers. After several minutes the interior display changed to Sunbury. I stepped out of the train to check the platform display and sure enough, it was going to Sunbury.

The third time last week, I was getting a bit cross and went to the Flinders Street information centre. I was brushed off with an explanation that maybe a train becomes defective or there are staffing issues. I fully understand these but I don’t believe they are very last minute. In reply to my pressing of the passenger information systems not displaying correct information, I was told to check the displays at Flinders Street as the train pulled in, which is fine if your are on the platform side of the train. Otherwise not.

Further, I did not catch the next train to Flinders Street from Footscray, as I waited longer at Footscray for the Frankston train to get directly to South Yarra. I should have just caught the Flinders Street train. I have made a complaint to PTV, not really about what the trains are doing but the displayed information.

The PTV app still doesn’t properly show the frankston trains through running to werribee/williamstown. At hawksburn it will show services with the confusing notation: city (Flinders street) stopping all stations to southern cross.

The myki money/pass choice endlessly (and needlessly) confuses first time and irregular travelers. Automatic capping of fares when passengers reach the thresholds? that would be far too convenient, and slightly reduce revenue. Too often I hear the cry, why do I want money, I want a transport pass.

@Arfman, from what I’ve seen, replacement buses do have internal/staff-only timetables at quiet times. At busy times they just despatch them regularly, which is probably better.

@Andrew, transposals keep happening… I really hoped by now they’d be mostly stamped out.

@meltdblog, yes, caps would help a lot to reduce confusion and uncertainty about how to get the cheapest fare.

Comments are closed.