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The end of the bus timetable
January 27, 2008 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Is this the end of the bus timetable? It can be bloody cold in Helsinki in January. The last thing you want to do is hang around too long for a bus or tram. Soon you won't have to because Helsinki City Transport is currently fitting *its entire fleet* with Linux servers. Not only will each bus or tram become a travelling wireless hotspot, but you will be able to see exactly where in the city your new bus actually is. Meaning that you only step into the bitter cold the minute before it arrives. (its in beta but you can see the effects of the live trial)

Moreover, using Near Field Communication embedded in the bus and tram stops that allow you to boot the whole caboodle on your Nokia, without going online or having to imput lots of fiddly Finnish names (try inputting Kalasatama at minus 15). You can then track the upcoming stops on your mobile and see where exactly are your connecting buses are in the city as well. Its almost as if you can route your way around a city using packet switching I think i've seen the future of mass transit. And it doesn't involve a timetable.
posted by MrMerlot (49 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's awesome. I'm moving there next week!

Seriously. I move out there on February 2nd.
posted by Lord_Pall at 5:36 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Am I missing something? A link to a map of Helsinki, a link to the home page of the transit system and two wikipedia pages? None of your links say anything about the subject of the post.
posted by octothorpe at 5:52 AM on January 27, 2008


We don't have mobile wifi, but we do have a similar bus and tram tracking system here in San Francisco. The system still has its quirks and bugs and limitations, but it's pretty wonderful to be able to sit at my desk at home and know how quickly I need to get ready to leave, or use it on the go via my web-surfin' cell phone.
posted by twsf at 5:53 AM on January 27, 2008


octothorpe: click on the icon of the busses. Assuming you're in the proper timezone (that is, while busses are running in Helsinki), you'll see estimates for when it will arrive at the next stops, etc.
posted by flif at 6:00 AM on January 27, 2008


I've been wondering how long it will take before this becomes widespread. Having instant access to information about the current location of busses could be a real quality of life improvement for a lot of people.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:02 AM on January 27, 2008


twsf - one can also call 311 here in SF and get the same info. also, the operator will cross-check the gps readings with the regular timetable, so you'll know if a bus without tracking is due to come by - still a gamble, but it can help at times. it's made a nice difference in my transit of the city. although none of it worked on NYE...
posted by lapolla at 6:16 AM on January 27, 2008


Do you mean that in the future no one would print the schedule and the bus stop would go the way of the modern office and be paperless? Or do you mean there is no schedule at all, and no one plans ahead, and people check the web or mobiles before they need to get somewhere?
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 6:17 AM on January 27, 2008


They have that system on the shuttles that I take to work and I still miss the damn shuttle. I suppose it would work if you lived right outside the bus stop, but having a few blocks to walk - well, anything can happen in those blocks. There's hundreds of ways to get delayed - you get stopped for directions, you help someone push their car out of the snow, there's an adorable puppy - and then there you are, stuck on the other side of the road because of traffic, and the damn bus zips by you.

I don't have a data plan on my phone so I only check the status on my phone when it seems like it's been too long since a bus came by, but it's actually pretty nice. The mobile version has the text, reading like 'going down Really Steep St., next stop Steep St. and Major Rd.' as well as a little squarish graphic of the buses' locations.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:36 AM on January 27, 2008


The bus network in London is being fitted with the very similar iBus (those that have it are the ones with automated voice announcements), which involves fitting GPS equipment and radio data links to track every bus. They don't seem to be quite so ambitious with putting the info online, though they already have a similar thing for the tube.

No Linux and no Wi-Fi though, so I guess it doesn't count.
posted by cillit bang at 6:38 AM on January 27, 2008


I think i've seen the future of mass transit. And it doesn't involve a timetable.

The best thing is for the busses to simply run on schedule.

We have something similar on some lines in Stockholm. As a frequent traveler on said busses, it adds very little to the efficiency of transport. A display telling me how late the bus is doesn't get me to work on time.
posted by three blind mice at 6:47 AM on January 27, 2008


I've used San Francisco's version successfully (tip: bookmark the pages for your local stops). For instance, right now I can see that there's one in 4 minutes, and one in 17 minutes. Still, it has a lot of unrealized potential. I can't tell if Helsinki's has it, but ultimately I want my cell phone to act like those car navigation systems: knowing where I am, tell me exactly where to go (here, for instance, I can choose between several lines leading to roughly the same place, but it's hard to say which one will be quickest). Ultimately, if it becomes universal, you can imagine a system of totally dynamic public transit which is constantly adapting its routes to accommodate the greatest number of people.
posted by alexei at 6:52 AM on January 27, 2008


I have often stood out in the cold Canadian winter, ten minute's walk from my home, and hour's bus ride from my school, shivering and frustrated, wondering if the hourly bus hadn't come because it is late, or because I am. I have turned around and started to walk home only to have it zoom past behind me. I have waited at the stop for fifty five minutes until the next one came. I have chased buses down when the driver, too preoccupied with the fact that s/he is ten minutes late, races past me. I have missed my bus because it came too early. I have missed my transfer because my bus was so late. I have phoned and emailed the transit system complaining about buses which come so irregularly that I have an fifteen minute window (five minutes before it is supposed to arrive, to ten after) to be at the stop. I have dreamed about a system such as outlined in the post. I have schemed about moving somewhere like Helsinki.

Finally, last week, I bought a car.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:45 AM on January 27, 2008 [7 favorites]


I hope this works better than the system that BART had put in. Their train information system was a complete disaster.

This setup looks pretty cool.
posted by drstein at 7:55 AM on January 27, 2008


Chicago started a pilot program along these lines for one of its routes a year or two ago. Unfortunately, it's for a route that I never have reason to ride. I had hoped that they would expand it to some of the routes I ride, but at this point I would guess that they're more concerned with spending their money on not making crippling service cuts.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:06 AM on January 27, 2008


Next up: Putting this in people, so your boss knows whether you've going to be on time or not. First they'll put it in criminals and children, 'cause we always need to know where they are, right? Then they'll go for the government workers (except for the politicians and there chosen inner circle), then the rest of us.

Naturally, digging the chip out will be punishable by firing. Of course it'll be legal, 'cause you can always go somewhere else and work, right?

You people like networks, always knowing where this or that is? That this is neat and helpful? Hold on, 'cause you ain't seen nothing yet.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:09 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


In bigger cities (London, NYC, Berlin) especially, an improved version of this would be great. I don't care so much about the location of trams on a particular route.. I'd rather have a sort of 'wayfinder' that can tell me the fastest way to a given location using every possible method, updated in real time. For example, right now, if I'm using the U-Bahn, generally I'd stick to that because it's impossible to know all of the Tram/Bus routes and schedules, even though switching to a Bus could be faster.
posted by romanb at 8:16 AM on January 27, 2008


Or what alaxel said.
posted by romanb at 8:18 AM on January 27, 2008


Many of the people who ride buses won't benefit at all from this, since you'll need a computer and internet access to use it. I have a feeling that bus timetables will stick around for at least a little while.
posted by goatdog at 8:26 AM on January 27, 2008


In Beijing, where there are no schedules, and you just show up at the bus stop and hope, this would be nice.

Of course it'll take 'em 15 fucking years to put it in place, and then it won't work. Not selling my motorcycle yet.
posted by saysthis at 8:30 AM on January 27, 2008


In Pittsburgh, there are schedules but you still just show up at the bus stop and hope because there never seems to be a whole lot of relationship between it and when the buses actually show. We'll get a system like Helsinki's some time in the 2020's.
posted by octothorpe at 8:39 AM on January 27, 2008


In Oxford, and no doubt other places in the UK, you can do this using only your cell phone.
Each bus stop has a phone number you can send a text to, and a few seconds later you get a reply telling you when the next bus will arrive.
posted by Flashman at 8:42 AM on January 27, 2008


They did this for like five minutes as an experiment on some NYC subway lines. It was hugely helpful when I was was working late into the night at a studio that had a subway just outside the door, going right to the door of my house. The 25 minute wait at 3 am ruined everything, the watch the net, jump right onto the train, was faster than a taxi.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:43 AM on January 27, 2008


I was in Helsinki last weekend, and I was pretty impressed by the tram system as it stands now. This will make it even more awesome, and me totally jealous.
posted by monkey!knife!fight! at 8:44 AM on January 27, 2008


We have this where I live. It's OK, but it doesn't save me a lot of time, since the stops are not exactly next to the places I'm coming from. I wish they'd just have heat lamps in the stops the way they do at some places in Chicago.
posted by melissam at 8:52 AM on January 27, 2008


Barrow, Alaska has had something like this for ten years. It was actually a bus fitted with GPS, which displayed itself on a map on the local cable TV channel. Interesting that here, too, the idea was to not have people outside longer than necessary.
posted by crapmatic at 8:52 AM on January 27, 2008


The best thing is for the busses to simply run on schedule.

They can't when the streets are too congested with cars. You can make trains run on time, you can even make planes run on time, but how do you make a bus run on time on crowded city streets unless you control all the automotive traffic on the route?

Maybe you could build a lot of slack into the schedule and have the bus wait at each stop until it's time to move to the next stop. Then the bus would never be early but it could still be late and it would always be slower than it could be to deliver you to your destination.

You can't fix the buses without fixing the cars: use congestion charges to cut automotive traffic down to predictable, reasonable, non-jam speeds.
posted by pracowity at 9:28 AM on January 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


We have something similar on some lines in Stockholm. As a frequent traveler on said busses, it adds very little to the efficiency of transport. A display telling me how late the bus is doesn't get me to work on time.

What about a display telling you how late your boss's bus is. Would that help?
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:57 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Many of the people who ride buses won't benefit at all from this, since you'll need a computer and internet access to use it. I have a feeling that bus timetables will stick around for at least a little while.
posted by goatdog at 8:26 AM on January 27 [+] [!]


People have mentioned its here in San Francisco. What they left out is that many bus lines (though not most) also have LED readouts at their stops that tell you this information - how many minutes until the next bus arrives.
posted by vacapinta at 10:07 AM on January 27, 2008


The Seattle / King County buses have had this for five years or so. Only a few stops have displays (and they're usually out of order), but there are a half a dozen ways to get the info online.
posted by hattifattener at 10:20 AM on January 27, 2008


The Ann Arbor Transit Authority does this, minus the wifi, and has for years. It was pretty handy.
posted by klangklangston at 10:24 AM on January 27, 2008


Many of the people who ride buses won't benefit at all from this, since you'll need a computer and internet access to use it. I have a feeling that bus timetables will stick around for at least a little while.

Just wait until everyone is used to using a newer generation cellphone with a browser.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:43 AM on January 27, 2008


Oh good, now Helsinki will be able to get oh-so-helpful schedule updates like these:

12 Main Street
NEXT BUS: 34 minutes
NEXT BUS: 35 minutes

Unless Helsinki has somehow managed to solve the "really late bus followed immediately by a really early bus" phenomenon. In which case I assume they have also cured cancer and ended all wars, and will be moving there shortly.
posted by chrominance at 11:00 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was on the team at TriMet in Portland OR, that brought Transit Tracker to cell phones more than 5 years ago and I still think it's cool. It provides info exactly when and where it is needed, reduces so much stress and -- being bookmarkable on your cell phone -- it's always a touch away. You can now call in to the phone line and get the same info verbally. On street Transit Tracker displays have been around longer. It takes some of the mystery out of transit trips.
posted by fellene at 11:00 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


chrominance: Transport authorities in Europe have discovered the technology to run buses more often than once an hour.

More seriously, when you have a high frequency you can solve this problem by monitoring the buses and turning one going the other way short to fill in the gap. Not rocket science.
posted by cillit bang at 11:12 AM on January 27, 2008


More seriously, when you have a high frequency you can solve this problem by monitoring the buses and turning one going the other way short to fill in the gap. Not rocket science.

Oh, I don't doubt that it's possible to run busses and streetcars without them bunching up. Now if someone over here would actually do it...
posted by chrominance at 11:26 AM on January 27, 2008


Vancouver's
posted by blacklite at 11:53 AM on January 27, 2008


actually, i forgot to mention it in the original post, but Helsinki Transport reckon they can also solve the buses bunching up problem. Because traffic controllers also know where the buses are, they can give buses traffic light priority to help them back on schedule.

Also, Helsinki say that it is prepared to let anyone mash-up there map, to build applications on top of their data. Which is pretty open for a transport authority.
posted by MrMerlot at 11:56 AM on January 27, 2008


I too hope this comes to Canada. Standing on a boulevard with no shelter and constant northwesterly winds and -35 C wind chill for 20 minutes or more because your bus is late really really really really really sucks.
posted by Koko at 12:11 PM on January 27, 2008


fellene, if you were on the team that provided an API for it, then presumably this guy thanks you. I'm going to have to try this. One thing I'm not clear on is if it's based on real-time tracking information or just the published timetable.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:21 PM on January 27, 2008


The best thing is for the busses to simply run on schedule.

Yeah, well, there's this problem called traffic that will screw up even the best planned bus route--or any vehicle route, for that matter.

This is really cool. Luckily I never need to take the bus; trains and my scooter get me around well enough now. Let's face it, buses suck, but this makes them considerably better.
posted by zardoz at 3:54 PM on January 27, 2008


Here in Kyoto there is a QR code on each bus stop, and you just shoot it with your phone cam and up pops the link to a page that works with any mobile browser, showing the location of buses as they pass the 3 or 4 previous bus stops.
posted by planetkyoto at 4:56 PM on January 27, 2008


I would lament California's public mass transit as "third world" here, except that all the third world places I've been to have much better mass transit.
posted by telstar at 7:11 PM on January 27, 2008


This would be useful if they had a monitor displaying exactly when the next bus would arrive, mounted at the bus stop itself. Maybe with a map and a moving icon on it, too. That would be nice. It would give you something to watch while you wait.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:19 PM on January 27, 2008


Now, if I could get wireless internet access while on the bus out of this deal, that would really make it awesome.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:21 PM on January 27, 2008


@blacklite:

Vancouver's would be great if a) it was in more than just a few major bus-stops and b) it actually worked.

After several times of seeing "Next bus arrives in 9 minutes", saying "cool, I have time to grab a coffee to go" and watching the bus come and go 5 minutes later, I don't pay much attention to the signs any more.
posted by lastobelus at 10:49 PM on January 27, 2008


I love how all the smaller, cosmopolitan cities have this, and yet a place like New York or Boston doesn't. That's just fucking great.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:05 AM on January 28, 2008


Because traffic controllers also know where the buses are, they can give buses traffic light priority to help them back on schedule

In London they're planning to add bus priority to every single traffic light all of the time, so that whenever there's a bus approaching, it'll stay green a bit longer to let it through.
posted by cillit bang at 3:50 AM on January 28, 2008


Every time I read about something like this, it gives me hope that open source will save us from ourselves. Imagine the costs of trying to get a company like Microsoft to build a similar setup? It would be damn expensive, it wouldn't work half the time, it would require insane amounts of computing power to run the onboard systems, and the end-user tie in wouldn't work with any phone not running on a Windows Mobile platform.

Local mall has a locker rental system that is pretty simple on the surface: Swipe card, locker opens, receipt is printed. Upon return, punch in code on receipt and locker opens again. The entire thing is run off of a Windows XP computer buried somewhere in the lockers, and is so prone to crashing or locking up that it doesn't work half the time we go. It's exactly the sort of thing that could have been built with a Linux-based system for more reliability and less cost, if the people who constructed it had any experience with systems other than Windows. The overhead required for an XP system to handle such a simple task is really insane.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:50 AM on January 28, 2008


In Oxford, and no doubt other places in the UK, you can do this using only your cell phone... Each bus stop has a phone number you can send a text to, and a few seconds later you get a reply telling you when the next bus will arrive.

Except sometimes the data is just from the timetable rather than real-time, which isn't always that helpful.
posted by grouse at 6:19 AM on January 28, 2008


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