A few weeks ago I looked at problems with Metro’s paper timetables.
Now, can we talk about how hopeless the PTV web site timetables are?
Most of the rest of the web site works quite well, but the timetables, a key part, really are horribly unusable.
If you’ve got the patience, see how many steps it takes to view the Hurstbridge line timetable for Sunday. Or you may prefer to read on.
(No audio, not even the sound of me banging my head on the desk in frustration)
Step by step
So we want to look at the Hurstbridge line timetable, to the city.
Go to the PTV web site, click Timetables, and on the dropdown, choose the Hurstbridge line, To City.
This displays the timetable for today.
There’s bus replacements this week due to level crossing works this week, between Macleod and Clifton Hill. Here’s how it looks at about midday today:
The times are all jumbled up. It shows a few train times, then a few bus times, in semi-random order. How are you meant to read this?
If you were actually wanting to travel at midday from Hurstbridge to the City, your trip might look like this:
Note: don’t hop on the first bus at Macleod, because it takes longer than the express bus 8 minutes later. Hopefully on-the-ground there are staff to tell you this.
H means replacement bus, by the way. Not that you’d necessarily realise what H means, because for most lines, the timetable will fills your display, so you won’t spot the annotations unless you scroll down. I actually had to mash two screen dumps together to get the above image.
Why H? Because it’s so slow in the traffic you’d rather be in a Helicopter.
I dunno. It’s probably steeped in railway folklore, similar to codes like WOLO (which means a heat-related speed restriction, and comes from — believe it or not — an old telegraph code).
(When I first looked at this, on Monday, according to the timetable, trains inbound ran to Macleod, but the buses only commenced at Heidelberg, 3 kilometres away! They’ve since fixed this problem.)
Now let’s say we want to see the times for Sunday. You have to choose a date, but it doesn’t tell you which date is which day, so you’ll have to guess, or look it up on a separate calendar.
Okay, Sunday is the 15th, so I’ll ask for 14 October to 15 October. The Day dropdown only has Mon-Fri for now, so I’ll just click Go. Wait for the entire page to refresh and load all the times, and…
Okay, I’m not even sure which day it’s showing. So I’ll choose Sunday off the Day dropdown and click and wait again…
Finally it shows the Sunday timetable. But why on earth does it have separate Date and Day dropdowns?
Now let’s look at next Monday. That’s the 16th October, so I’ll choose that. Click and wait.
Despite there being individual days you have to choose for this week, next week is a range of days: “16 to 19 Oct”. But peppered throughout the timetable are variations for specific days, with annotations.
And the footnotes are worded in some kind of broken English:
- Mo = Operates on Monday only
- T10 = Operates not on Monday
“T10”? “Operates not on Monday”? Seriously?
It could be worse. Here’s the annotations for the Frankston line this week.
“_n300” and “up300H”. Yes, not only have they munged codes together, they’re using codes with underscores in them.
Other issues with the online train timetables:
- Some lines are so long that you can’t view them properly on smaller (eg laptop) screens — one workaround is to change your web browser setting to a microscopic font size
- The indicator for Wheelchair accessible services is missing for most trams and some buses
- Even if you have a big screen, it’s restricted to showing 14 columns at a time — though too many would hinder readability
Other cities do so much better at this, especially in terms of date selection and navigation around the timetable.
The silver lining? Tram and bus timetables are a lot simpler, thanks in part to simpler stopping patterns (though Mon-Thu vs Fri variations still abound) and also thanks to the wise design decision to hide minor stops by default, making the display more manageable.
And in many cases, you can use a journey planning tool — PTV’s has some quirks, though Google Maps is very good. (Some others such as Offi have been forced offline because of the withdrawal of PTV’s “EFA” API, which provided 3rd party software with access to PTV’s journey planning algorithms. Software which can calculate their own journeys with the timetable data still work fine.)
But if you need to use the PTV web timetables, overall there are basic usability issues that should have been resolved years ago.
Perhaps, given the data is open, someone should conjure up a more usable timetable display web site?
There was a Metlink/PTV beta web site being tested at one stage – perhaps parts of it made it into production, but the timetables have been like this for about 10 years, and are well overdue for improvement.