Blog

Wed 21 Oct 2020

I'd hoped for a fuller entry, but I haven't got as much done as I'd hoped due to one of my days off being cancelled at short notice. Nonetheless I'm adding this brief one so as to mention, in case anyone was wondering why it had disappeared, that I'm just merging Arriva Midlands' Hinckley (Barwell) depot into Wigston, as it is an outstation of the latter, with a transient allocation. With vehicles changing on a daily basis it's never going to be realistic to keep the allocation up to date.


Fri 09 Oct 2020

There's a new URL format available for vehicle records; the parameter vrm can now be used as an alternative to vehicleid, for example vehicle.php?vrm=JX70BUS. Another alternative is TransportAPI four-character operator code (as used by Traveline) plus fleet number, in the format vehicle.php?opcode=BSCO&fn=12345. The opcode parameter can also be used with fleet.php as an alternative to ownerid. Finally, there's also a JSON record format available by appending &mode=json to the URL.

Fleet number handling is still next on the enhancements list!

It seems that not all of the recent edit wars have been vandalism; I've come across a couple of instances where two editors each with numerous good edits to their credit were continually reverting each other's updates, and where one was wrong, they were presumably making the change in good faith. I'm therefore experimenting with temporarily locking individual vehicle records as an alternative to blocking editing completely. So far I've done it by hard-coding IDs into the PHP; this obviously isn't sustainable in the long term, so I'll try to set up a better mechanism. The offers of moderating help I've received will come in useful at this point. Somewhere to discuss conflicts between sources will also be needed. Watch this space!


Mon 28 Sep 2020

I have put in place the first very basic stage of a system that I hope will help curb the vandalism. Please bear with me and hopefully things will improve.

In the meantime, let's make some positive plans. I'm going to make at least one improvement per week besides the addition of data. The first two on my list are the ability to request vehicle data via a URL without needing to know the internal database ID of the vehicle; and the enhancement of fleet number handling. For example, when a bus is moved from an operator that uses fleet numbers to one that doesn't, the fleet number will be suppressed. It won't be deleted, just in case the move turns out to be false, but it won't be displayed.

I have plenty of other plans but need to get my thoughts in order before I post them here!


Mon 14 Sep 2020

And still the vandalism goes on... I can only apologize to the many for being ineffectual against the few who seek to undermine and destroy the site. I've just (hopefully) blocked a user that's been causing a lot of disruption. In this case, it was easy to identify as vandalism, because many of the changes being made were quite obviously ridiculous, although it's not always so obvious. But it does sometimes feel as though I'm fighting a losing battle, as several other editors have recently also said to me via email.

I don't want to admit defeat on the general concept: I do think that the will, knowledge, and skill exists to create and maintain a collaborative, community-edited, free database of British buses and coaches, and to protect it from harmful edits. But I think I am starting to realise that it's getting too much for me personally to deal with. It needs proper user authentication (with all the associated personal data processing considerations), more administrators, mechanisms for discussion and dispute resolution, and effectual blocking of bad editing. In short, it needs far more investment than I can give it. So, I want to start exploring in a general way the possibility of transferring or sharing responsibility for the database and associated editing facilities.

Is there anyone else who thinks that this idea could work and would like to be part of it? If so, let me know (fleetlists at quack77 dot uk). If necessary, I can set up a discussion forum somewhere to progress it further.


Thu 10 Sep 2020

It's been a while since I posted and things are not going well. Apart from my limited progress on the backlog of additions, and zero progress on various other things that I've promised, there appears to be an ongoing edit war. Despite not having 100% conclusive proof as to which side is right, I have a pretty good idea, and, assuming I'm right, the offender keeps switching IP addresses, which means I don't have a straightforward way of blocking them. I've attempted something which I hope may inhibit the problem, though there is a risk that legitimate edits could be blocked. If you find this happens to you, please don't hesitate to email me with details of what you were trying to do. In case of conflict, the source of your information would be helpful, and photographic evidence better still.

On a different note, the question has been raised as to where I should draw the line as to what vehicles are included. Many companies have vans, taxis, cars, trucks, road sweepers and a wide spectrum of other vehicles part of their fleet, all doubtless performing useful roles and worthy of interest, but I have to draw the line somewhere, and for simplicity it is currently set at anything that is or has previously been a PCV.


Sat 08 Aug 2020

A couple of new features to note. Firstly, you can now link existing vehicle suggestions to an operator, if a list for that operator already exists on the database. As there are around 2,000 outstanding suggestions, some of them almost a year old, this will enable me to prioritize the ones that can be added to a list that already exists. (I will of course work through them all eventually!)

If you're adding a new suggestion, then in order to make use of the new facility, you'll have to search for the vehicle a second time. You should then see a message that the vehicle has already been suggested, along with a button to specify the operator. Sorry that's slightly convoluted, but it was just easier to program that way :-)

There are also a couple of new "housekeeping" lists, showing vehicles with unknown current registrations or unknown or unconfirmed original registrations. If you happen to know or be able to confirm any of the new or old registrations, please let me know. Thanks!


Tue 04 Aug 2020

Apologies for the third consecutive day of no additions. Unfortunately I may not manage many during the next few days either, but hopefully I should get back to adding a reasonable number at the weekend.

A few of you may have spotted that I've been adding coaches that took part in the "Honk for Hope" cavalcade in London a couple of weeks ago – I wasn't actually there, but have been looking through a friend's photo album. Hopefully the industry will get the support it needs. After this I'll get back onto the suggestions backlog, as well as the promised split of Ensign into operator and dealership. I also have plans to enable contributors to link a pending suggestion to an operator, with the aim of prioritising the addition of vehicles to lists that already exist.

Where I am currently adding vehicles without an operator, I am keeping a separate note of who they belong to, and will eventually get around to adding these operators; I just find it easier to concentrate on one thing at a time, rather than constantly switching between researching operators and vehicles.


Sun 19 Jul 2020

Just a brief update as I haven't done one for a while. Thanks to everyone for their support, whether you've emailed me, or made corrections and updates on the site. Some have fixed quite a lot of erroneous data, which has been a big help, but of course it all helps, even if it's only one bus.

A couple of minor enhancements – where I know that a vehicle has been reregistered, but I don't know what to, the registration will now appear crossed-out. (This also enables the registration to be assigned to a different vehicle without violating the unique constraint on the database field.) Secondly, the most common single-colour liveries (white, silver, etc.) are now available in the "change livery" drop-down, where previously only liveries explicitly associated with an operator, plus "non-standard", were available.

Where I've been adding vehicles without an owner, I suspect someone is assigning far more of them to Ensignbus than actually belong there! This does remind me of something I've meant to do for a while, which is separate Ensignbus as a dealer from Ensignbus as an operator, given that their actual fleet is rather swamped by dealership vehicles. I'll try to do this during the coming week.


Sun 28 Jun 2020

Apologies for the recent lack of posts, and of progress more generally. I've had issues on and off for a while with what might be mild depression, and at the moment it seems to be manifesting itself as mental paralysis at making the "right" decision about what to do next – and in the meantime, not starting on anything. I know that I should stop overthinking and just do something, but it's not always as easy as it sounds!

I will be seeing a doctor over this – as should anyone who finds their mental health less than OK – but in the meantime, I'm going to try making some temporary changes to the way I work, as I think I'll probably get more done that way. Therefore, with a few exceptions that are already in the pipeline, I'm going to temporarily stop adding new fleets, concentrating instead on adding the vehicles that have already been suggested, without worrying too much who they belong to or whether they're still in use, and leaving them unassigned where necessary. If I miss the fact that some of them belong to fleets already listed on the database, I'm sure someone out there will soon assign them.

Once I've cleared the backlog, I'll add the long-awaited facility to submit changes to registrations and fleet numbers, amongst other functionality to improve interactivity and help reduce duplication of effort between contributors and myself.

Looking on the more positive side, the fact that there's such a backlog of vehicle suggestions is an indication that the popularity of the site is a lot greater than I anticipated when I set it up, so thanks for making use of it!


Tue 09 Jun 2020

Having gone through the additional suggestions for name changes (both depot and operator), I've made the ones which consisted of a relatively minor tweak. The others are now listed in poll part 2 to check for consensus. There's also a runoff version of the status question; whilst "Normal" was the single most popular option, it didn't have a majority, and so it's now up against "Active - passenger use", which was the second most popular option, as well as combining elements of some of the other options that had minority support. A bewildering array of new statuses were also suggested; I rather liked "Gone to the angels", though will probably end up sticking with the more prosaic version!

Several merge suggestions were made (as well as one split), all of them sensible, but it's since occurred to me that if I tweak the "combined" fleet functionality slightly, then it's possible to have the best of both worlds and leave it up to the reader whether they wish to view a combined or separate list. So, in the short term, I'll just add the suggested combinations to the "combined lists" section, which at some point will be integrated into the main list of lists; I'll also do the split, and add a combined list for that too.

Of course, I will also try to get round to adding more vehicles soon!


Sun 07 Jun 2020

Thanks for the responses to the poll. It's good to know that most of you find the accuracy above average, and the editing easy or neutral; I'll try to keep it up!

On the topic of depot naming, none of the answers were unanimous, which is good because it means it wasn't a silly question! But there were clear majorities in favour of more localised naming generally, and specifically, Aberhill, Lillyhall, Olive Grove, Whitehawk and Lewes Road (with the status quo preferred in the other cases). I've now made the relevant changes. Eight other renamings have been suggested, and I'll put these to everyone in another poll soon.

I haven't gone through the answers about operator names or status description yet, but will do so in the next couple of days.


Sun 31 May 2020

The promised poll is now online!


Sat 30 May 2020

I do actually have a grain of an excuse this time for missing the deadline I set myself: I never imagined that the free offerings from the mainstream survey providers would be so stingy on how many responses you're allowed to collect. SurveyMonkey gives just 40 and SmartSurvey 100. So I've decided to build one myself from scratch instead. This will take slightly longer, but should still be ready by the end of tomorrow.


Wed 27 May 2020

Most of you are probably used to me by now – when I say I'll do something in a couple of days, it means "maybe this month", and "soon" means "at some point in the next two billion years". This past week has been poor even by my standards, but I'll get the promised poll online by the end of Saturday, and also aim to regain some momentum on the additions.

One thing I have managed to do is to add hover text to the status suffixes, displaying the full description. Coming soon is the ability to sort or filter by status.


Mon 18 May 2020

Apologies for a few glitches this afternoon whilst I was putting the new status field in place. I think I have now ironed most of them out! The option to record a vehicle as withdrawn is now found by clicking the change status button, rather than the change depot button. Similarly, to record a vehicle as reinstated, the status needs to be changed back to "Normal", although it probably won't continue to be called that, because there are definitely more informative phrases I could have picked, I just found myself dithering as to which one was best. I'm thinking something like "In use" or "Available for service". I think I'll make this another question for the poll that I still intend to create soon!

Today or tomorrow, I'll reset all those Stagecoach allocations as promised, and set the status field to "Temporarily out of use".


Sun 17 May 2020

I said I'd re-enable the submit suggestions facility today, so, as the new version isn't quite ready yet, I've temporarily re-enabled the old one. The new one is not more than a few days away.

The other thing I said I'd do this week - namely add a status field - should be done tomorrow.


Tue 12 May 2020 (again)

I said recently that you can tell what sort of Volvo a coach is by looking it up on DVLA; maybe I spoke too soon, because BV17 CRF is certainly the first B19R I've come across. And that's not to mention LJ51 DJO, the only bus ever to have two identity crises: a DAF, and a brick wall. Perhaps I place more faith in government agencies than I ought to ☺


Tue 12 May 2020

I've been prompted to think about the naming of depots. Sometimes, the choice is obvious; other times, there's a balance to be struck between a locally-familiar name, and something that will be more meaningful to people from across the country. For example, the Stagecoach depot on the outskirts of Methil is widely known as "Aberhill", and that just outside Workington as "Lillyhall", but I went for the names of the larger towns as being easier for outsiders to comprehend. Similarly (and this being the example I was asked to consider), I called First South Yorkshire's two depots "Sheffield" and "Doncaster", even though I know that the official name of the former is "Olive Grove", and apparently the latter is known locally as "St Leger" — though I can't actually find any references to this anywhere else, and therefore, others unfamiliar with the name may struggle too.

Conversely, I realise that, for example, "Green Lane" probably doesn't convey much to non-Scousers, nor "Marine" to non-Edinburghers; though to be fair, "Stoneycroft" and "Craigentinny" wouldn't be that much of an improvement, and given that the operators in question have more than one depot in the cities of Liverpool and Edinburgh, there is no obvious non-ambiguous, nationally-recognisable alternative. So I went with the local names.

How best to resolve this? Eventually, I hope to set up a system (once again modelled on the ethos of Wikipedia) in which anyone can make a suggestion for a change, then everyone can give their opinion on its merit, and hopefully reach a consensus. In the meantime, I will probably set up a poll on SurveyMonkey for the examples above, and post a link here. If there are any other depot names that I've chosen which you consider dubious, please email me, and I'll include those too.

A separate issue, though also related to depots, is that some operators have more than one operating centre, but do not have fixed allocations. In these cases, it makes sense to "allocate" all vehicles to their "main" depot. The problem is that I don't always know whether an operator has depot allocations or not, and if so, which depot should be considered the "main" one. So, if you know of any operators for which this is the case, please do let me know. Also, any missing depots, or depots that are listed but don't exist any more, please let me know.

The address at which to contact me is fleetlists at quack77 dot uk.


Sun 10 May 2020 (again)

I got myself so distracted sounding off about number plates that I forgot the main point I'd been intending to make!

It's been noted that someone has blanked out quite a lot of allocations in several Stagecoach fleets. Looking at the vehicles involved, my guess is that this has been done with good intent to show which vehicles are temporarily non-operational due to the current reduced vehicle requirement. If so, please hang fire on doing this, because I intend to introduce a status field within the next week, which will provide a better way to record this without losing the depot information. When I do so, I will reassign all the allocations that have been blanked, and set the status flag to indicate temporary non-operational status.


Sun 10 May 2020

Definitely an improvement - 393 added so far this long weekend. Though I swear (sometimes literally) that it would be twice as many if operators didn't keep on reregistering buses. Half of them aren't even personalized in any sense, they're just an even more arbitrary collection of letters and digits than the mark they replaced. What's the point? "To hide the age" is the usual response. But why hide the age? After all, hiding the age clearly isn't the same thing as making a vehicle look newer. I suspect it may even have the opposite effect. I always attempt to find out the original identity of a vehicle, and even if I can't, DVLA will tell me how old it is. And as often as not, it actually turns out to be newer than I'd imagined. Bit of an expensive own goal! Meanwhile, I end up poring over photos, trying to figure out from minor details, such as cab window stickers or trivial cosmetic defects, which vehicle I'm actually looking at. Admittedly, many photographers on Flickr are very helpful by providing previous registrations, but they can't be expected to always know, nor to realise when a mark has been transferred onto a different vehicle. Anyway, rant over!

I have done another large-scale reversion of changes to NXWM made yesterday, these won't show up in the change audit because I forgot to paste in the second part of the script.

A slight change to the lists is that you can now hover over a current registration to see the original registration (if known) without clicking into the vehicle record. I hope some of you find this useful. I'll try to introduce a few more enhancements soon.


Thu 07 May 2020

As always, big thanks to everyone for the continuing updates - especially the large scale fixing of NXWM allocations.

Whilst I was trying to figure out the best way to make selection of make and model easy for new submissions, I ran a query to see what the most popular ones were, and I thought the top 10 might be of interest to some. It currently stands as follows:

#Make and modelCount
1Alexander Dennis Enviro2003804
2Alexander Dennis Enviro4003067
3Alexander Dennis Enviro400 MMC2027
4Alexander Dennis Enviro200 MMC1931
5Wright StreetLite DF1397
6Optare Solo1299
7Volvo B9TL / Wright Eclipse Gemini 21081
8Wright New Routemaster999
9Volvo B7RLE / Wright Eclipse949
10Volvo B5LH / Wright Gemini 3882

The predominance of ADL is probably unsurprising. Of course, the above may not represent the true proportions in which these vehicles are in service, because I haven't been adding them in a completely random manner, much as it might often appear as though I do. In the early days, I tended to concentrate on a particular type rather than a particular operator, and my efforts have also been biased towards larger operators until fairly recently.

Another issue is that I recognise that I haven't been consistent as to what level of detail I include - for example, the Dart MPD has its own entry, distinct from SLF, but I didn't differentiate between any of the other lengths of SLF, and I have made no distinction at all for its successors. I've included separate mark numbers for some types (e.g. Wright Eclipse and Gemini) but not others (e.g. Plaxton Panther). And whereas I separate Volvos by chassis designation, because it's easy to tell by a combination of looking at the vehicle and checking its DVLA record, I have been more generic with Scania and MAN, where the designation is not so easily deduced. Generally speaking, I aim to keep the detail level fairly minimalistic, at a level that can be easily ascertained simply by looking at a picture of the bus. (The one thing I have been meaning to add for ages, but haven't got round to yet, is a flag indicating open-top buses.)

Hoping to get more done this weekend than last, check back soon.


Mon 04 May 2020

Ah well, 111 - not quite 400, but at least it has the word "hundred" in it. I'll try to do a bit better this week.

May the Fourth be with you!


Fri 01 May 2020

Firstly, thanks to the anonymous editor who has made inroads into reverting the glut of vandalism recently, primarily targeting NXWM. Sadly, it seems there has since been more, which I will attempt to revert tomorrow. If I inadvertently undo any genuine edits, please let me know. To whoever keeps making false edits, please stop - the time spent fixing it is slowing down the addition of information and functionality to the site.

Thanks of course also go to everyone who has made genuine edits, or emailed me with updates, additions and any other information.

I'm never quite sure what to do about crediting people for their contributions - my day job involves processing a lot of personal data, so it's ingrained in me that you don't put someone's name on the internet without their explicit consent. Generally speaking, I like to be anonymous, and yet I can also understand the enjoyment of being thanked publicly for having contributed something. Therefore, if anyone would like their contributions credited by name on the site, let me know and I will do so. Eventually, the plan is for users' nicknames to be automatically attributed to their edits, rather like Wikipedia; it will be made clear at the time of submission when this is going to happen.

In order to re-enable the facility to submit a vehicle record, I'm currently reconfiguring the lists of values for chassis and body to make them more consistent. At the moment, all vehicles have a chassis and body (each represented within the database by a numeric code), and the pages decide whether to display this as a single value (integral vehicle), or as a slash-separated chassis/body combination, based on whether one value is a substring of the other. Unfortunately, where integral vehicles are concerned, I haven't been consistent as to whether the detailed value is stored as the chassis or as the body, hence the need for rationalization. At the moment, I'm erring towards creating a correspondence table, even at the risk of missing a few potentially valid combinations, because for example if you've selected "Optare" as chassis, there's no point making you scroll past "Alexander ALX400", "Irizar i6" and "MCV Evoseti" as body options before you get to "Optare Solo"!

After re-enabling the submission of vehicles, next few items on my to-do list are:

I hope to spend quite a few hours adding vehicles this weekend - I'll publicly set myself a target of 400 now, in the hope that it encourages me to meet it!

All the best for now.


Sat 18 Apr 2020

I don't know if I'm likely to have enough interesting to say on a sufficiently regular basis to justify starting a blog, but I figured that it can't do any harm to try - as long as I don't let it distract me too much from working on the lists!

Many of you are probably frustrated at my slow rate of progress in adding vehicles, and in order to address this, I'm going to make a few changes to the addition of vehicles and of operators.

Firstly, up until recently I have tended to check that older vehicles suggested for inclusion are still taxed before I add them, in order to confirm that they are (at least probably) still in use. However, as demand for bus and coach travel is vastly reduced right now, many operators have opted to "mothball" a proportion of their fleets, and therefore a status of SORN on DVLA is no longer much of a clue as to how likely the vehicle is to see use again. Therefore, I will start being less discriminate about whether a vehicle is definitely still in use before I add it. As ever, should you see that I've added a vehicle that you know to be permanently withdrawn, please do remove it.

I have also in the past tended to wait for visual confirmation of new vehicles on Flickr or elsewhere before adding them, but as opportunities for photography are somewhat curtailed at present, I will henceforth add new vehicles without waiting for photographic confirmation. This does increase the likelihood of errors slipping through, so please keep an eye out for these, and let me know by email where I've slipped up.

Secondly, I underestimated the likely popularity of the "suggest vehicle" facility, and now have a backlog of over 1,800 suggestions. I'm therefore going to pause the "suggest vehicle" facility at the end of tomorrow (19th April), and start coding an enhanced version, where instead of just submitting a registration for me to research, the submitter will be prompted for full information about the vehicle, which should significantly speed up the rate at which I can add them. My target is for this to be available by 17th May. A "suggest operator" facility will follow. I will continue to work through the backlog even after the facility is paused.

Whilst all of this in the short term this may result in an even slower rate of additions, hopefully within a couple of months the time investment will have paid for itself in increased additions.

Hope you are all keeping OK during these times of unprecedented usage of the word "unprecedented". I will try to keep in touch via subsequent blog entries. Previous experience may tend to suggest that I will fail, but I will attempt to prove it wrong. In the meantime, feel free to email me.