Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Understanding the Message

Some time back, when I was a regular commuter into central London via the London Underground, one would be greeted with a notice at the starting station saying what the service was like at that time. The problem was that to London Transport the phrase “Normal service” was meant to be good but was usually greeted with an audible groan and the spontaneous movement of hand to forehead. “Normal” to the customer meant “not very good at all”.

This all changed when we got a London Mayor and some bloke from New York was hired to run the tube. The sign now says “good service” when appropriate and they have also stopped telling everybody when they are running late or there have been delays. I never understood this. When the trains are running every 5 minutes who cares? Nobody who uses the tube times their journey to catch the “15:36” except if it’s the first or last train. Why publicise problems when people don’t need to know?

So, yesterday’s Tweets of the day are:

Remember that we INVEST in roads, whereas we SUBSIDISE railways. - John the Monkey

Weird that "public" transport (rail) improvements are paid for by users and "private" transport (roads) are paid for by government out of our taxes. - Simon Grover

So, we come to symbols:

What do you see in these two wheelchair posters?

On the left is the “normal” one, the International Symbol of Access (ISA). On the right is one designed by Redbridge resident wheeler Max Reid.

See how the one on the left is slouched, head forward as though asleep. And there is no indication of motion or movement. In Max’s design the wheeler is sitting upright, alert and with active elbows indicating they are going somewhere under their own motive force. Perhaps to catch a bus into town and do some shopping?

Max is none too happy with London Transport, nor the group Transport for All and wants to set up a Redbridge Transport Action Group. Not just for wheelers but for the elderly, infirm and those with other disabilities like sight or hearing impairments. He is our guest speaker at the September 15th Coffee morning 10-12noon, Hainault Room, Fullwell Cross library.

And one final thought that has just occurred to me.

In the debate about disincentives in moving from welfare to work, no politician will mention the impact of the transport costs involved in getting to and from work.


  1. With all respects to Max, I disagree with his interpretation of the symbol. The prime purpose of the original is to be a bold, simple, clear and unambiguous design and that is what it is.

    Look at the two symbols again and ask yourself which one stands out best. The standard one, of course, because it is doing what it is supposed to do. Of course, Max's symbol could be beefed up a bit but that would make it too big to fit the standard square format. There is no point in making the entire sign bigger to compensate because it would simply be reproduced at a standard size - i.e.: shrunk to fit - and thus back to square one.

    I had never attempted to analyse the standard symbol before but studying it now, the alignment of head and body, to me, suggests a straight backed, alert pose and, as far as movement is concerned, I think the design was far in advance of its time. To me, it looks more like a modern mobility scooter being driven in Stirling Moss mode ...

    While I'm on an 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' theme, I note a reference to London Transport. When The London Passenger Transport Board was set up in 1933 they tried to devise a logo to suit their mouthful of a name and came up with this winged apparition but it only lasted a few months before the Underground roundel, which had been doing sterling service since its inception in 1908, was hurriedly brought back from retirement.

    The clumsy LTPB was also dropped in favour of the much simpler does-what-it-says-on-the-can London Transport for day to day use although, of course, the official name of the organisation remained unchanged.

    The LPTB reported directly to His Majesty's Government until 1948. With the nationalisation of much of the nation's transport undertakings, it ceased to be a board in its own right and became an executive, reporting to the all-embracing British Transport Board. With this came a change of name and it officially became the London Transport Executive.

    The BTB was a failure and, in a few years, was scrapped, so all change again and the executive became a board again - this time the London Transport Board.

    In 1970, control of the central area of London Transport passed to the GLC and is was back to an executive again. Note that, through all of this, LPTB, LTE, LTB, LTE the London Transport name never varied.

    However, when major changes resulted in the formation of London Regional Transport in 1984, the use of the London Transport name was discouraged, although LRT and its group of operating companies did readopt the name in 1990 but then, in 2000, LRT was replaced by Transport for London and, from that day onwards, the London Transport name has never been used.

    Why? It was a perfectly good and well known name - brand, if you like - and it makes no sense to me not to continue using it.

    But the symbol lives on! 103 years after its creation, the roundel covers far more tranport activities in London than ever before - so why couldn't we keep the name as well ...?

  2. Just before a recent holiday I noticed the roundel has recently appeared again on the new Stagecoach Enviro 400 buses on route 169, and perhaps others too.

  3. I think I may have been on one of those buses last night, but as I was on my way home my vision may have been slightly impaired ....

  4. Well, your vision obviously wasn't that impaired ...

    TfL keep changing their mind about liveries.

    Remember, not so long ago, when First, Stagecoach and Arriva buses carried their full corporate livery, except for the use of London Red?

    Then the rules changed to increase the percentage of red, which got rid of First's swirls and reduced Arriva's big splash of white to cow horns.

    Another change, this time to 100% red, eliminated all but the smallest indication of fleet operator and now, after a long break, we have the return of the roundel on all new buses. This will be rolled out to existing vehicles with routine repaints.

  5. Yesterday I spotted one of the much older double deckers on route 247 newly adorned with the roundel. Is Stagecoach the only company doing this? I see too that since the operational transfer of the 167 from Docklands to Blue Triangle (both under the same ownership) they have been somewhat shy about even displaying a fleet name.

  6. As far as the roundel is concerned, livery changes, are part of the tender specification, so will only become mandatory with new contracts.

    This would be the case with the 247. I expect, because it is a new contract (26/03/11).

    Interestingly, about 8 hours after Morris's post, the following appeared on the London's Transport group, under the title Go Ahead London logo's:

    "Why is there so many buses within the Go-Ahead Docklands and Blue Triangle without fleetnames. Only ones that seem to have them are ones bought during the Go-Ahead takeover. Pre Blue Triangle and Docklands Buses have either kept the fleetnames and those that transferred within subsidaries would get the old logo's removed and nothing re-applied."

    Nothing conclusive yet - in fact, the thread has wandered off to a discussion of differing employment conditions amongst the four London companies in the Go Ahead Group - but I'll keep a watch on it.

    Perhaps Morris should join the group? I sure he would love to contribute to at least one current thread: Your first ever ride on a London Bus ...

  7. Very interesting thread... I'm a member of the LondonsTransport Yahoo group and maybe you saw my comments about my first bus ride. Erm, it was actually about a trolleybus ride in Bournemouth, but its not my fault that 55 Broadway (and other Britisgh transport operators) prefer fume belching disease diesels (diseasals) to clean electric trolleybuses.

    I like Max's wheelchair user symbol. It suggests that the person may not be able to walk but still has the mental and physical ability to get themselves around unaided. So its is much more positive than the laid back person symbol.

    re: the 'good / normal' service and timetable issue, I can see a different angle to the 'timed train' issue. You only need to want to catch a train that travels on the Hainault loop to begin to see why time does matter. With just a train every 20 minutes so the service is infreqent enough for time tables to matter 'very much'.

    (NB: Infrequent is not the same as irregular; the trains are actually very regular - but with 20 minute gaps between them!)

    Passengers using Metropolitan Line Amersham and Chesham services also benefit from knowing the exact times of the trains, as these are only half hourly! - as are the Chiltern Railway trains which also serve some of this route - and offers better trains that have seats with tables, laptop power sockets and toilets.


  8. I cannot really recall, Knowsie, my first ride on a London bus, but can categorically deny the rumour that it was horse-drawn. It would have been LPTB days - probably on either route 148 (Dagenham to Leytonstone), or route 175 (Blackwall Tunnel to Stapleford Abbots). Buses used on those routes at that time would have been classes ST, LT, and STL including Tilling open-backed STs and LTs.