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Clarity is key: championing better information for bus passengers

When it comes to information, clarity is key. The experience of these two bus passengers shows how patchy information can create a barrier to travel – and perhaps to re-engaging with society and the economy at all:

“I don’t totally understand the rules and as my daughter has asthma, both she and I have found that the information is patchy about if she should or should not be allowed on the bus if she is unable to wear a face covering.”

At the end of June we blogged about the work Transport Focus and London TravelWatch are doing to make sure information is crystal clear on bus company, train company and motorway services websites. It’s all part of making sure people have the information they need to travel with confidence as we emerge from lockdown.

This time last month we’d just completed a final assessment of train company websites, had carried out an initial one on a selection of bus company and transport authority sites and were talking to the motorway services operators. Since then we’ve been working with various organisations to secure clarity for transport users and, again, it has driven change.

As well as bus companies, we thought it was important to look at the big transport authorities because some passengers will come to them and not the operator. Transport for London is the obvious case in point. Thank you to those who have listened and made changes to your websites. In our final assessment of bus company sites it is almost green ticks all round in the areas we looked at. And with transport authorities’ sites it is green across the board. We’re just doing our final assessment on the motorway service operator websites and will publish that soon.

Key observations

The points we made in June are still valid. Namely: the problem that ‘the author knew what they meant’; that organisations weren’t putting themselves in the shoes of somebody who hadn’t travelled for three months; and that it’s easy to overlook caveats when striving for clarity. But a couple of other observations:

  • we found a tendency to use descriptions like peak and off-peak times, yet the peaks changed in lockdown and no longer occur when they used to. It’s vital in the transition to ‘new normal’ to check that phrases from before Covid-19 are still meaningful.
  • we found a tendency in some organisations to think that because something had been tweeted, it didn’t matter if it wasn’t crystal clear on the website. Full marks to those using social media to communicate, but it can’t be instead of keeping the website up to date.

To that point, different individuals will get their information from different places. When we asked our Transport User Panel how information should be made available, 61 per cent said ‘through transport operator websites’. But information at bus stops matters, too. We understand that it’s challenging in a fast-moving situation, but leaving the pre-Covid timetable on display when it’s not the service that’s running isn’t the way to rebuild trust and passenger confidence in using the bus!

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