“But if you tell people what’s going on they’re going to expect it in the future”

Next time you head out of London’s Waterloo station keep your eyes peeled as you come through the ticket barriers; if you’re lucky you’ll see one of the small display screens that are usually covered by an opaque lid. At first sight these seem to be a mirror of the larger departure boards on the main concourse but these screens tell the drivers which platform they need to be on for their train before the main concourse screens update.

Why is this interesting? Well, tonight the trains in and out of Waterloo were severely disrupted by something going on at Clapham Junction, no one seemed to know what exactly but the general consensus amongst the station staff was that it was probably related to a train.

Train departures were still displayed on the main board with a platform number, but after it became apparent that the service wasn’t going anywhere, each departure cycled through on time, delayed and finally cancelled.

After my train home suffered this fate I trudged to the end of the platform where a member of the SouthWest Trains was looking at one of these driver’s display screens and was actually dispensing useful information. Admittedly the information seemed to be “catch the Tube if you can” but that was still useful.

Mind The Gag

Just before I headed for the nearest entrance to the Tube station and a longer than planned commute home, another SouthWest Trains colleague, let’s call him SWT Two saw what was going on and strolled over; their conversation, while short, shows the affection which SouthWest Trains has for its passengers, sorry, customers.

SWT Two: What are you doing?

SWT One: Telling these passengers what’s going on as best as I can

SWT Two: They’re customers not passengers

SWT One: Well whatever they are they deserve what little information we have

SWT Two: That’s a driver’s board; you shouldn’t be showing customers that

SWT One: Why not? It’s all the information there is at the moment

SWT Two: But if you tell people what’s going on they’re going to expect it in the future. You should tell them to go back to the main concourse and wait for announcements

SWT One: What? Even if there are no announcements and they have to wait for ages?

SWT Two: That’s their problem not mine.

Wonderful; as customers it’s our responsibility to find out what the train company is doing and don’t tell people what’s going on as they’re going to expect it again.

Lovely to know that we’re such a pain in the backside and a burden to the poor overworked train operator.

Photo Credits: Shht! on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

One Comment

  • There seems to be a fair amount of non-information not provided, supposedly for our own benefit. For example they stop showing the platform number a minute before departure, perhaps to reduce people running and hurting themselves.

    At placr.co.uk we’re looking at delivering improved information to passengers/customers. At the moment I’m looking at tube departure boards data, and trying to eek a little more fine-grained information out of that, over and above the rather crude major/minor delays information passengers are used to.

    As open data becomes more widespread I’m sure we’ll see improved tools (e.g. mobile apps) to help people efficiently route around network problems, and people will come to expect it more. Take this to its logical conclusion, and maybe we’ll see a future in which train companies just pump out raw network sensor data, open and free to the internet in real-time with no delays or filtering. Layers of filtering and the display to passengers would be built by third parties, some of whom would opt for an open data approach themselves.