Friday, February 15, 2019

Where have all the network maps gone?


Why would one produce transport maps and then make it hard for passengers to find and use them?

It's got me beat. But it's a good question given how difficult it was to find multimodal public transport network maps when the new PTV website started.  

The pdf maps that show multiple routes and modes for a local government area or regional city were particularly elusive.  You know the sort that, thanks to intersecting routes, tells people that public transport can take them to multiple places they didn't think reachable. Something a backpacker might pick up at a country tourist bureau.

Or, if one line or route is disrupted or has a limited timetable, a map that shows nearby alternatives could be helpful. Even a 30 or 40 min walk to one may still be faster than waiting for a disrupted service to resume or replacement buses to arrive. That's the sort of insight a journey planner or call centre operator won't necessarily provide, at least without spending more time than they can spare.

Before we start our fishing trip, let's have some history of multimode public transport network maps in Melbourne. This will demonstrate that having multimode maps is not unreasonable since they have existed in some form for nearly 50 years.

* 1971: All bus routes were renumbered to the three digit system we know today. A fold-out metropolitan network map was produced.  This map was regularly produced by successive agencies including The Met, PTC and Metlink until about 10 years ago.  Two c1990 editions of this map were displayed at Flinders Street Station in or near the Degraves St subway until at least 2008.  The remnants of where one was mounted can still be seen near the barriers.

* c1980: The Melway street directory started to show bus routes on its street maps.

* c1990s: Some railway stations had Melway street maps (showing buses) erected in poster cases on their platforms.  Maps were often from Edition 25 (1998).  Many remained up well into the 2000s despite subsequent network changes. 

* 2000s: The creation of Metlink and the introduction of minimum service standards for most local bus routes also saw improved passenger information.  Fold-out network maps based on local area, were produced from the early 2000s.  All bus stops got timetables. And, as you can see from the picture (Williams Landing, 2013) they also got local area network maps. Service upgrades, outer suburban fare cuts and improved information contributed to booming bus patronage during this era.

* c2014: Local area maps started to get removed from bus stops and be replaced by generic information on myki ticketing. This would have reduced signage installation costs; a minor change to one route could have implications on the accuracy of maps at hundreds of stops that (strictly speaking) would need changing.  The trade-off is that removing maps made buses (already thought twisted and tricky) even more difficult and less attractive to use.

* c2016: As per the article above, falling bus patronage was a concern. One of our big bus operators (Transdev) was on a franchise contract that rewarded patronage growth. If patronage fell the contract would be less sustainable (and in fact they later had problems). 

To help out PTV ran the Melbourne by Bus campaign to promote bus use.  There were posters and brochures with stunningly beautiful images that would not have been cheap. And an online bus network map just for the campaign.  Nice but probably limited impact. The single-mode focus also undermined the passenger-centred multimodal approach espoused elsewhere including in the Transport Integration Act (pdf - you should read it).

* 2018/9: Most recently we have the new PTV website. Whereas the old 'classic' website was a website with a journey planner incorporated, the new website is more like a journey planner with a website attached.

The new site prioritises planning one trip today over communicating what the network can do - present and future.  The route timetables, maps and upcoming service change information that form the basis of traditional public transport websites were pushed to the side with this one.

What has this to do with maps?  The new website has a page for maps (under 'more').  The classic website also has a page for maps (under 'Getting around').  On the new website the new PDF maps are mostly single modal, with the main exceptions being for regional train and coach services between towns.  And a bit of multimodalism appears on the event precinct maps. But there is not the same range of multimodal pdf network maps we had last year.

However you do get other types of maps when you call up a route or do a journey plan. These are the maps that PTV says you should be satisfied with when you ask about network maps on their Facebook page. They only show the route you pick or the routes in your journey plan. Not surrounding routes like the PDF maps did. Both types have their uses but there is a risk that the new version is closing the user's mind regarding the network options around them. You can see the difference in information below. 

Individual route maps are also affected. Look up a route such as 200, 250, 386, 411, 802 or 811 on the classic website and visit its map. You will get a multi-route map showing overlapping closely related routes that combine to increase frequency on the common section (example below right). 

That's useful to know as a more frequent service is more attractive than a less frequent one. Whereas on the new site, unless you select the combined timetable option which isn't always available, you just get a map for the one route selected (below left).  Another example of the new site prematurely closing off options (although other aspects of the new maps are nice).

Getting back to multimodal pdf area maps, can we still see them on the old ('classic') website?  It looks promising with a link provided to local area maps (circled). And PTV will assure you on their Facebook page that all the maps we enjoyed in 2018 remain on the 'classic' site. But clicking just takes you to the new PTV site. 

This is where it's best to be on a desktop computer. You use the right mouse button to inspect the website code.  It looks like this:

Paste the text somewhere, eg Word, insert 'classic' instead of 'www' and paste into your browser. Or just click . Now you have the page that we remember from the old old PTV website. That is the one before the new page took over and they put the word 'classic' in everywhere. As far as I can tell it's an unloved orphan with no links from either the new or old (classic) PTV sites.

Click on this page and save all the local area network maps you want. Even if just for posterity.  Bad luck though if you're in regional Victoria; the regional city network maps outside Melbourne local government areas don't seem to be there. 

This is where you go to Google and do a search. Sometimes a link to something may be removed but the underlying item (or a previous version) remains.  Be aware though that the item might not quite be up to date. For instance this Geelong network map.  Or you might find maps on third party sites such as maintained by councils, tourist agencies or enthusiasts who value them highly.

Sometimes maps are in places one wouldn't expect. The encyclopaedic 192 page Victorian Fares and Ticketing manual is a great source. From Page 82 you will find network maps for the larger regional cities.  It puzzles me that if all the effort is done to prepare a map for an obscure document few passengers see, why not make it public so it has a wider benefit?

Where have all the network maps gone? Many still exist, especially for Melbourne local government areas. It's just that, having been removed from bus stops, and now publicly linked parts of the PTV website, they're not easy to find.  And when you do find them save them quickly in case they go.

What is PTV's attitude to network maps? Do they regard them as important? As part of research for this post, I asked PTV about them via their public Facebook page. And I wasn't the first or only one to raise the topic. You can read the whole thread here.  The discussion was quite long but the salient answers are below (or skip to the bottom of you're short of time).

1. First of all PTV say they do not have a network map "solely for the Geelong area". David then asks for them to be restored.

2. PTV says that maps are on the old website (I discussed previously - the link that looks useful goes to the new site). Mention is also made that the old site won't be around for long.

3. I ask about whether maps from the page (that does work) will be incorporated on the new website.  I then prompt for an answer (as I'm researching for this post!).

4. PTV talk about interactive maps (which is not my question) then say the downloadable maps are on the old website.  We know that the old website won't be around for long so the future of downloadable maps looks grim.

5. David explains why PDF maps are necessary.

6. PTV says they only have the interactive map that you can bring up one route at a time.

The message here is that PDF local area network maps were not considered important by PTV when asked multiple times by different people. Once the old website went then these maps would also vanish. And early on they denied a map existed for the Geelong area.

My opinion in contrast was that multimodal network maps are essential for passenger navigation and should continue to be available. Not only downloadable via the web but also at interchange points on the network. Their restoration at bus stops would be nice, too.  Hence this post.


After this post had appeared I received advice (comment below) that local area maps were back. Not just for Melbourne local government areas but regional as well. This is great news. See right at the very bottom of  Thanks to PTV for responding to online feedback so quickly and making it happen.


Anonymous said...

At the bottom of there are links to "Melbourne local area maps" and "Regional town network maps" - sure these aren't what you're looking for?

Peter Parker said...

Many thanks. Yes. They must have appeared in the last day or so.

Not as prominent as desirable but it's great they're back.

I'll update the post.