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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Boris in Manchester

On Monday Mayor Boris Johnson, en route to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, called in to see McKenna Brothers – the main manufacturers of destination blinds for buses in London and around the world.

At their HQ in Middleton, Boris saw first hand this amazing family-owned business which makes nearly all of our printed destination blinds, as well as signage for numerous applications including electronic signs.
The printing of traditional destination blinds in London was one of the many specialisms held in-house for decades. London Transport perfected the silk-screen printing of them in huge quantities on paper bills glued to rolls of linen.

During the 1980s this work was outsourced and a few private firms provided the service instead. McKenna Brothers quickly noticed that a good eye for detail put them head and shoulders ahead of the competition and over time they became market leaders. Indeed now they supply the world.

Across the country there were also major developments with electronic equipment which McKennas were fast to exploit. LED displays are quick to modify but as yet do not display the clarity in the arduous typographical conditions of bus destination blinds which is why we in London (and indeed in Edinburgh) continue with print.

Nowadays the print is on superior material – untearable and with lasting light-fast properties. Boris tried his hand at the age old tradition of spreading ink across the back of a silk screen forcing ink around the lettering already set out to make the reversed-out displays that are familiar to all our passengers.

He made, and was presented, with a special blind naming not only some locations but also the materials produced across the whole of the UK as a result of New Bus for London orders.

Across the whole of Greater London, McKenna’s products are taken for granted – showing our 6.5m passengers a day where they are going.

His visit done, the Mayor continued with his journey to Manchester.



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  2. But Edinburgh have finally joined the rest of the UK bus world by going over to coloured LED displays, which are beautifully clear.

    Your trams have LEDs, your Underground and Overground trains use LED. It's an anachronism to continue to use blinds, and even worse now that you've made them white, which show as dirty grey on many buses because of the tinted destination boxes.

    It's nice to see the Mercedes demonstrator doing the rounds in London also using LED displays - they're also extremely clear and using a version of Johnston font.

    Why not try an experiment to see which is better in the long run - convert a whole garage's output to LED displays and compare the two. That's what the old London Transport would have done - continue to innovate and move with the times instead of continue to stay in the past.

  3. Then more fool Edinburgh!

    LED blinds may be beautifully clear to you but clearly you are not visually impaired otherwise you wouldn't think that the clarity of digital blinds are better than those we have and expect in London.

    I would point out that the Mercedes demonstrator never showed a destination longer than 16 characters and NO qualifying points were (or could be shown) either. Destinations such as Tottenham Court Road wouldn't have been clear and if put on to two lines would have reduced legibility even further and don't even go down the scrolling displays or advertising tickets on the destination box route.

    Also, the destinations on a Tram, Tube or Train are a confirmation of the information already shown on the display screens on the platform and of the expected train, whereas a bus route number and destination needs to be clearly seen from a distance, even more so when bus stops are served by numerous different routes. The current specification, as in side by side displays with the number on the right and the destination on the left, for TfL's bus destination blinds, together with the original Johnston typeface, makes them the clearest in the UK and there is no reason why London should be brought down to the poor standards seen in the rest of the UK.

    Perhaps come to Bromley and see the poor display on Arriva's route 402 compared to any of the TfL bus routes.

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  5. The LED Tram destinations cant easily be seen in sunshine, even from a few yards infront of the tram, they were much clearer when they were tyvek. From the buses i have seen outside London they are also hard to see when there is strong sunshine, LED may work well at night or in dull conditions but not during the daytime.

    The Black and White blinds are more visible, but behind tinted glass, or a long distance from the glass as in the smartblinds they look dull grey, never had that problem in LT days as the blind box had roller bars in the units that put the blind right up against the glass, thats why in the heritage routes and preserved buses they are much clearer.

  6. I'm not convinced that the decision for LED or paper/linen blinds has anything whatsoever to do with clarity. The electronic blinds offer potential cost savings in terms of easier updates and amendments, potentially without anybody needing to change anything on the bus, as it could all be done via an online software update. Such are the wonders of modern technology - but please don't be fooled into believing that it is done solely with the objective of improving the facilities for the passengers.

    It's money first, and if we can do something for the passengers' benefit as well, that's a bonus. If not, too bad.

    1. All Blinds have to be DDA compliant, and i am not sure the LED ones are. as you can hardly read them at times with reflections on the glass, dull displays etc. So to comply with the regulations cost is not a factor. A few years back LED displays had to be changed in some trains because the height of the letters was 2mm or so to short.

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