do printed timetables have a future?

A timetable we designed for metrobus in Bristol
During lockdown No. 2 I bought a number of items from a French retailer called Asphalte.

Traditional retail brands design their garments per season, get them mass-produced in a factory before trying to sell what they have produced either online or in-store. Although demand is generally created through some form of advertising, they won't know if their marketing efforts have been successful until sales figures are analysed at the end of each week.

Asphalte's approach is anything but traditional. First, they set up surveys to find out what people want from a particular product (eg. sweatshirt) and what the common gripes are (eg. colours fade, too lightweight, loses shape too quickly). They take this feedback to design a suitable alternative, getting samples made before shooting delightful 'ads' (like this for the sweatshirt) highlighting why the piece could be for you. 

Each item is then available to pre-order for a month, with the website giving a running total on the product's purchase rate. Once orders close, the item goes off to be made in the exact quantities/sizes ordered and paid for. Delivery times, totally unlike traditional retail, are often around 8 weeks. 

Demand is fulfilled after interest has been created, and perhaps more importantly money received in the bank.

So how does all this relate to the humble bus timetable?

Traditional bus timetables are designed for routes the operator wants to promote, and printed in guesstimate quantities before being distributed to shops and interchanges. There, they sit in racks trying to create demand with their visual appeal or fulfil a demand created by advertising. Either way, nobody knows if all the effort will pay off and people will actually take a copy.

So, could things be different in the future? Could we modernise the whole concept of how the timetable is used and distributed? We think so. And it goes something like this...

The space timetable racks currently take up could be replaced with a series of digital screens, digital screens that have access to all the information supplied by operators serving that particular travel hub. Essentially, a touch screen travel portal that is linked to a printer. Once a customer has viewed the on-screen content they select elements relevant to them (service 2A, Saturdays only & a route map) and ask for them to be collated and printed - just like a supermarket checkout would print your receipt for goods paid for.

The customer gets bespoke content and the operator delivers for a guaranteed demand, alongside minimal waste.

What do you think?