Go-Ahead Finally Fixes Their EDS
So it seems Go-Ahead, our favourite beleaguered rogue bus operator, has finally woken up its idea and come to its senses.
Partially, at least. I’m talking about the programming on their Wrights’ EDS.
What’s an EDS, you ask. Oh right. I forgot you’re a normal person, one who doesn’t know squat about buses. Right.
Well, the EDS is the Electronic Destination Signage — or in layman’s terms, the orange computer-y number at the front of the bus. For this article, I’ll mainly deal with the EDS format on Wrights (Volvo B9TL double-deckers with Wright bodies), currently the most common double-decker model.
The two incumbent operators — SBS and SMRT — have their own well-established EDS formats in general. Might have taken a while for them to settle down, but they’ve not changed for a few years.
What are the main features of the EDS? Certainly, the route number is obvious. As you know, in Singapore, the number is standardised to be on the right, but why? The answer lies in a clever bit of design — the idea is that if two buses are queueing at a bus stop, you can only see the rightmost corner of the EDS on the bus behind, and hence the number is there.
Besides the number, the EDS format generally includes two other main components — the final destination (terminating point where the route ends) which stays there, and the scroll (the routes and places the bus passes by) which changes every few seconds. Hence the name scroll.
Usually, the final destination is emphasised. Because nobody stands in front of a bus looking like an idiot, staring at the EDS just to read the scroll. If you want to know in detail where the bus goes, you read the panel at the bus stop. People look at the EDS because they want to know simply which direction the bus is going; they don’t want to take the bus heading in the wrong direction.
Anyway, I originally intended to discuss SMRT but I realised they have their own fair share of mess-ups with programming EDS (particularly on their Wrights) so I’ll just focus on SBS, TT and GA.
SBS places the scroll on the upper line, left-aligned. It’s thin, not bolded. The final destination is on the bottom, left-aligned, bolded with a > in front (i.e. >DESTINATION).
I personally quite like this format. It’s remarkably easy to read and understand. I don’t think anyone would have difficulty interpreting it — it’s pretty clear what is what. The > serves as an arrow helpfully pointing to the destination, and on occasion I’ve seen people online referring to, say, the 43 to Punggol as the “43 >PUNGGOL”. So it serves as a handy abbreviation in itself. And all this is bleedingly obvious with just one look at the EDS.
What I don’t like, however, is their format for loop services. This format replaces the destination with a line that’s basically “ORIGIN-LOOP POINT” but not bolded. From far, it’s indistinguishable from the scroll. Just a cloud of orange. You can’t even read the bottom line until the bus is really near. But then again, or so I presume SBS logic goes, you don’t need to really look at the scroll since it’s a loop service.
Tower Transit took a somewhat different approach. They kept the number on the right, but the destination is on the upper line, bolded and centred. The scroll is below, centred as well, but unbolded. This way, you can also immediately understand it. In fact, it quite reminds me of the acrylic destination displays in their home city of London, which simply show the destination in big letters (but not upper case, interestingly).
It’s a good enough alternative to SBS’s format, but what I like about TT is how it’s also applied to loop services, where they set the looping point as the destination on the way to the loop, and after the loop is done they change it to show the origin. Really neat.
This is where GA comes in.
When GA initially rolled out their buses, I was quite peeved — scratch that, really irritated — with their programming of the EDS for two main reasons. One — font, and two — format.
There are two brands of EDS on the Wrights — LECIP and Hanover. LECIP has a lovely round font that looks like the kind you see on computers, or smartphones. Both of Hanover’s default fonts are more square and blocky. Something like the sort of font you expect to see on a display, a graphing calculator.
SBS and TT used the default fonts for LECIP. Whereas GA somehow managed to program their LECIP EDSes to use one of the default Hanover fonts.
Why would you want to see a more blocky font that’s harder to read? My main peeve is that it makes a 2 look like a 7, but never mind.
At least the usage of the Hanover font on LECIP displays was restricted to the numbers. And it’s honestly a minor peeve, just something that I have a personal bias against. Maybe some people prefer the Hanover font, I dunno.
But on LECIP displays, they somehow managed to screw up the destination details as well. The format is technically the same as TT’s (except for loops they put “ORIGIN < > LOOP POINT” as the destination, saving their drivers the need to reprogram at the loop point. Quite clever, actually.
But the design… is just ugh. Sure, the destination is on top and the scroll is below. But how are we supposed to tell?
There is almost zero contrast between the destination and the scroll. Both are in some sort of Arial which is trying too hard to look like a computer font. The only distinction is that the destination is like one size bigger than the scroll. And that’s all.
Unacceptable. From far, when you see a GA Wright with LECIP EDS coming, you just see some ugly number, and on its left is some orange blob you can’t decipher.
It’s like the SBS loop format, but worse, since these are trunk services we’re talking about, and we need to know the terminating point.
And we truly have no idea which line it is, above or below.
Whereas with an SBS bus, say, you’d see a bold line with a >, and as it gets closer you can read the destination. With a TT bus you’d see the bolded word above, and realise it’s the destination. Then with GA it’s just one orange cloud of text.
The saving grace is that GA has a bunch of Hanover Wrights. Obviously, they use the Hanover font. But the good thing is that Hanover’s resolution isn’t as high, so you can’t try to be fancy and program some silly font for both the destination and scroll. Hanover forces you to choose between “bold upper line/thin lower line” (TT) , “thin upper line/bold lower line” (SBS) or “both thin” (SBS loop). Only one bolded line is allowed and obviously GA used it for the upper line, the destination.
So GA buses with Hanover EDS look okay (in fact the format looks identical to TT buses with Hanover EDS), and the goal of indicating which direction the bus is going is achieved.
But with their LECIPs, it isn’t.
Luckily, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, before it degenerated into this rant, GA has come to its senses and wisely modified their LECIP EDS format. I’ll update if they change their Hanover format (which might happen, seeing the change they made).
Simply put, the lower line (scroll) has been made thin (thus resembling the scroll on SBS and TT buses), while the upper line is now bolded. It’s still set in that annoying font, but it’s okay. The destination, interestingly, is in all caps but followed by a lowercase “via”. The number font has become narrower and thicker, but easier to read. Still not the default LECIP font, but readable.
Another thing — they finally got rid of the annoying “INT.” (yes, with full stop), so good for them.
Overall, it’s an improvement. The destination might be smaller, in a font that’s inherently thinner, than SBS and TT’s, but there is now contrast between destination and scroll. And there’s a clear emphasis on the destination.
In fact, the use of the “via” does enhance the format overall, improving on TT’s format. (I’d still prefer if they used the thick, round original LECIP font, but at least they fixed something). Not sure if this will carry over to Hanover, or if so, done consistently — I think I saw a GA Hanover with a “via” on the lower line with the scroll — but I’ll update in due course if I do observe it.
Update: Yes, the format for Hanover has indeed updated.
The Hanover format, at first glance, looks like nothing much changed, but if you look clearly, there’s a cute diagonal “VIA” on the lower line. Why they didn’t be consistent with LECIP and put it on the upper line is beyond me. (Single deck buses’ EDS continue to lack a VIA whatsoever, and continue to have the annoying INT, so consistency’s definitely been thrown out the window.)
Also, every now and then, the Hanover EDS will display a full height “Pasir Ris”. Is this perhaps an attempt to compensate for their LECIP cousins’ relative lack of clarity? We will never know.
Now if only they could fix the problem of thirty-eight-minute wait times only to encounter single-deckers on 12. That’s a genuine injustice.