Data presentation & usability, accessibility - what of timetables?

I use the web a lot, unsurprisingly. I use my smartphone to find things on the web a lot too. I have done for a long time. I was, however, rather surprised recently when I went investigating in order to find bus times for a journey to East Midlands Airport.

Up until recently, the SkyLink service (to the best of my recollection) had its own dedicated website, within which all the timetables were nicely presented on web pages, and I could easily find and check these on my smartphone. Last week, before a trip, I was somewhat dismayed to discover that had replaced this website with pages that were internal to that site, and had removed presentation of these timetables from said pages, only to replace the data with links to PDF sites/default/files. Take a look, here, at the new page replete with PDFs. I particularly like that they have noted that their "timetable is available in a handy format for easy downloading and printing" - what, exactly, could more handy than an HTML table of the relevant data on the webpage, in this instance? I'm on the page, looking for the information, and it isn't available. WHY?!

This seemed unnecessary and frankly a bit short-sighted, so I wrote (with all my usual charm and diplomacy, natch) to the persons in question via their feedback form. Here's what I sent:

Is it some sort of twisted joke that you've decided in your infinite wisdom that the best way to disseminate timetables is by PDF?

So now instead of you cutting and pasting two tiny tables into an HTML file and making a link to it, you or your web developers have decided we have to download a file, and open it in another application? Seriously?

Previously, I could easily browse to the skylink site (which doesn't seem to exist any more?) and look at the timetable for Notts -> Airport on my smartphone, but I can't even do that any more.

Be smart. Make pages for timetables. Forcing people to use PDFs for this stuff is INSANE and a horrible usability problem, not to mention the fact that you're simply making barriers to getting what is essentially very simple information, which should be on the WEB, NOT in a file. Sort it out!

And yes, I make websites for a living.

Tactful, I'm sure you'll agree. Well, this morning I received a response from East Midlands Airport, which was ... well, you read it.

Dear Mr. Nik,

Thank you for your considered feedback upon our timetables section.

We constantly scrutinize the manner in which we relay important information to our customers. As I’m sure you’re aware, being a web developer, there are several benefits to the PDF format over presentation within a webpage. Namely:

- Consistent formatting/appearance across platforms and devices
- Better control over printed layout
- Offline access to data

Whilst we understand that this involves an extra click to access the information, we believe that the above benefits are particularly pertinent to timetables. Also, it may be worth investigating if there is a PDF reader for your smartphone as this would facilitate mobile browsing of the time table, whether you had connectivity or not.

We do review the manner in which we present information to our customers regularly and appreciate your feedback,

Many thanks,
Rob X

Given that my initial professional opinion has met with almost zero positive response, I'll just throw this open for comments...!

Blog Tags: AccessibilityUsability