Saturday, February 21, 2009

Translink website usability casestudy

Translink logo

Dear Translink (and anyone else reading), here's a challenge. The scenario is that you're a student and you've heard a rumour there's a bus that goes between Belfast (is it Queens?) to The University of Ulster campus out at Jordanstown. The challenge is to go to the Translink website and find the timetable.

I'll give you five minutes.

Still looking?

My natural instinct was to click on Students in the main menu bar. Though perhaps staff would want to catch the bus too, so just sticking it under students wouldn't be the whole story.

So you've got to a page that mentions Unilink ... but where's the timetable, or even a list of the stops? I couldn't find a direct link from there, but clicking on the Special Discount Student Bus Fares more info link in the Special Offers box did bring me to a page that linked to a specific Unilink bus page, that has a link near the top to timetables that doesn't work, but you'll have more joy scrolling down to the bottom of the page and where you'll find a link to the Unilink timetable PDF.

But then, maybe I should have used the Journey Planner on the homepage and gone from "QUB" to "UUJ" ... except that would have translated into a journey from "Queens Road Science Park" to "Ulster Amercn Folk Pk Entrance"!

Turns out that the trick might be to ask it to plot a journey between "Queens University University S" and "Jordanstown University" ... which suggests the 163A bus during daytime hours Monday to Friday. (163A is the Unilink service.)

Translink search results for Unilink

To be honest, why would you do that? Googling for "Unilink +timetable +translink" is probably faster than relying on Translink's own search which only turns up sitemaps! (see image on the right)

Suggestion. A new user story for Translink website designers.

As a university student or member of staff at UUJ

I want to be able to easily find details of buses between Belfast and the UUJ campus using the keywords "Unilink", "Belfast", "Jordanstown", "QUB" or "UUJ"

So that I can find a bus to college and back without getting RSI or giving up in frustration with the Translink website

The acceptance criteria might be

  • being able to access the time table with no more than two clicks (pages) from the Translink homepage;
  • being able to use UUJ or Jordanstown as search criteria;
  • being able to find the timetable in a list of other bus services without having to know that 163A as a magic codeword.

Oh, and isn't it time for Translink to be a bit more specific with the bus stop locations. "Queen's University: Botanic Avenue" isn't that precise? How far down Botanic Avenue is it? Right at the gate? Near Duke's hotel?


Flippin' Yank said...

You need 7 Phd's to operate this thing. It isn't clearly laid out.

This is what is annoying about the transportation system here. It isn't immediately user friendly. Coming from San Franccisco, I guess it wouldn't be a fair comparison since our transportation system makes sense!

I think translink should model their journey planner after SFMTA. SFMTA has an interactive map which plots your destination and gives you every single possible route, exact bus stops, and even walking distance to your destination from the bus stop.

Go to To test it out type Westfield Center, San Francisco, CA for start destination and City College of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA for end destination. You'll see what I mean.

I'm not a programmer but this wouldn't seem that hard to configure.

Niall said...

My immediate instinct was to use the Journey Planner (which, despite a few quirks) seems to work much of the time (I stopped reading after the challenge so I could try it cold). "QUB" and "UUJ" are contextually sensitive acronyms, so I typed "Queen's University" in the "from" and "Jordanstown" in the "to" fields, and it promptly turned up the 163A. Maybe it was written for people whose brains work like mine (or maybe since I'm used to the Translink website my brain works like its). Clicking "stops" shows the stops (although your point about "where" in Elmwood Avenue or University Street is a bit imprecise).

Agree that getting the timetable is a bit harder and it ought not to be, but would you contend that every timetable should be available within two clicks from the front page, or just the ones that the particular user of the site is looking for which has caused the visit :-p

Just a wee alternative viewpoint ... :-)

olli said...

We were back in Belfast for a few days over Christmas and were planning to use public transport a little for getting around. After 30 minutes on this utterly useless website we gave up and stuck to taxis.

Living in Munich I can use the MVV website to plan my way around the entire Munich public transport system - 6 U-Bahn lines, 8 S-Bahn lines, and the entire bus and tram network.

The website is clear, fast, user friendly, intuitive and multi-lingual - everything the Translink website is not.

image said...

very good! i also have a bit of a grim view of translink...
cool blog by the way

Purple_Merman said...

Another interesting thing with the journey planner on the translink website is that it tells you that you can get your bus from the city hall BUT what it really means is that you have to get your bus from the Europa Bus Station which just happens to be near the city hall. For some reason translink thinks its better to tell people what is near where they have to get a bus rather than where they actually have to get the bus

Niall said...

@Purple_Merman: At the risk of sounding like a Translink fanboi at this stage, if you put "Belfast" into the planner as the start of your journey it gives you a list of options to choose where in Belfast you are going from. Very sensible.

It happens (because the list is ordered alphabetically, I would guess) that "Belfast (Centre) City Hall" is top of the list. But the point in having a list is so you can say where in Belfast you're leaving from.

Wherever you choose as your departure point, the journey planner quite clearly shows that you have to *walk* to the departure point first.

Some examples:
From: Belfast City Hall, To: Ballynure - walk to Laganside Bus Centre or Bridge Street (depending on whether you're getting the direct bus or the one via Ballyclare);

From: Belfast, To: Gilnahirk Road - walk to the side of the City Hall (Donegall Square West).

It never (IME) implies at any stage that a service departing from Glengall Street actually leaves from the City Hall. Are you mis-reading the drop-down lists where you clarify the origin and destination of your route??

None of this is to say there's no bizarreness. If you look at the routes from Belfast to Enniskillen it will suggest via Dublin Airport and Omagh as a viable (albeit very long!) route. But in terms of departure/arrival points, I think it's actually quite precise (although it would need some heel-dragging to take 6 minutes from the City Hall to Glengal St Bus Station!).

Alan in Belfast said...

So like a good citizen, I looked at the options of heading up to Magee/Derry on Friday by public transport. After all, I could have read a lot during the journey, rather than spending all that time changing gear.

Translink Journey Planner: Lisburn bus/rail -> Magee Campus


Please note there are no journeys possible on this date or with the particular selection that you have chosen. Please input another option to further plan your journey.

No mention of bus/train from Lisburn to Europa Bus Centre, the Goldliner up to Derry, and the busybus to Magee ... which was Europa bus station's recommendation, along with the classic advice "you wouldn't want to take the train".

And in fact, despite the journey planner recognising Magee Campus, it can't generate a route from Derry's bus station (or Londonderry's ... it lists both!) to Magee either.