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The Wheels on the Bus Dial 206...
April 2, 2009 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Seattle bus riders rejoice! From the Univ. of WA comes One Bus Away which answers the eternal public transit question "where the hell is my freaking bus??" With six flavors of awesome, you can get real-time bus arrival info. via phone, website, SMS, an iPhone-optimized webpage, or for those us still rocking the un-smart phones there's even a text-only webpage available.
posted by Smarson (42 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not Web2.0 or anything.. but Portlan'd Tri-Met service has offered to-the-minute arrival updates over the phone for a couple years now. Call the number, enter your stop code, and then get angry when it says "Next arrival in 32 minutes"
posted by mediocre at 7:29 AM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a great service and I use it several times a day. I no longer leave the house or the office until a bus is approaching, and this probably saves me an hour of waiting a week.
posted by grouse at 7:34 AM on April 2, 2009


This is great news for people in Seattle. Don't most places with public transit already do this?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:37 AM on April 2, 2009


They've been rolling out a text service for this across the UK for a while.

Like grouse said - very useful for avoiding waiting in the cold with people who ignore the fact it's now illeagal to smoke in bus shelters.
posted by She Kisses Wyverns at 7:38 AM on April 2, 2009


This is great news for people in Seattle. Don't most places with public transit already do this?
Not here in Madison, Wisconsin.

Dammit.
posted by Floydd at 7:39 AM on April 2, 2009


I should have mentioned that this got pretty heavy use during the Seattle 'Snowpocalypse' this past December when King County Metro pretty much gave up on any semblance of trying to keep buses on a schedule.

Seeing this site and then comparing it to the schedules and maps that Metro offers on its site only highlights for me how woefully behind Seattle is in the public transit arena.
posted by Smarson at 7:39 AM on April 2, 2009


If only there was a subway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:45 AM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is great news for people in Seattle. Don't most places with public transit already do this?

Not in my experience. In fact, none of the public transit systems I am most familiar with provide a real-time bus information system this exhaustive. Not to mention the user interface, which is pretty damn good.
posted by grouse at 7:46 AM on April 2, 2009


"Hmm, where's my bus? Oh, caught up in traffic down on MLK blocked by light rail construction!"
posted by yeloson at 8:29 AM on April 2, 2009


Boston needs this so badly. But all we get is Twitter, saying when the subway lines are running late, and even that's missing one line! ARGH.
posted by mkb at 8:31 AM on April 2, 2009


posted by Blazecock Pileon If only there was a subway.

VOTE MONORAIL

/Seattle joke
posted by mattdidthat at 8:43 AM on April 2, 2009


But all we get is Twitter, saying when the subway lines are running late, and even that's missing one line!

TBF, that line isn't missing much. t_redline tends to tell you "delayed by 10 minutes" after you've been standing in a disabled train for half an hour.
posted by atbash at 8:44 AM on April 2, 2009


I think the coolest thing about this project is that to the best of my knowledge it's a two grad student operation.
posted by Smarson at 8:47 AM on April 2, 2009


If I am not mistaken, this is just a rehashing of an existing data / service that has been at UW for a long time: mybus.org

It hasn't been updated in 6 years, but still taps into the same regional Bus line sensors that onebusaway works with also. It is nice that someone finally made a usable website out of the information for once.

(I have the mybus pages on my iphone bookmarked, so I can see each buses arrival at my most frequented stops. It looks like onebusaway may have a similar feature, as their URLs are actually bookmarkable, a failure of other recent websites that are polling the same information)
posted by mrzarquon at 8:48 AM on April 2, 2009


I think WA State and various municipal services have a really poor track record at advertising the web presence of a lot of their services. The bus system is actually really solid, and has little if any funding for a long time, but the systems still work. It just needed someone to code a new front end for it.

I wonder how many people know that you can search our state liquor store inventory online.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:54 AM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree that Metro has its challenges (particularly last December) but in fairness, Metro's website has had realtime bus tracking for awhile now. It's web only though, which doesn't help luddites like me who often find themselves at the bus stop trying to decide whether to wait it out or hail a cab. The phone and SMS options will make my choice easier in the future.
posted by rube goldberg at 8:57 AM on April 2, 2009


Enjoy what UDub brings you, because with the current budget proposals there won't be much of a university left come July 1.
posted by dw at 8:57 AM on April 2, 2009


Hey that's neat! I'll actually use this. Also, thanks mrzarquon! I'll make use of that service also. Any other super secret online services for Seattle?
posted by Craig at 9:24 AM on April 2, 2009


Thanks for making my towns (St. Louis) transit seem that much more inadequate. Just the other day they cut about a third of the routes and stops. But somehow they seem to be able to raise the rates about every year.... buggers!

From south city I used to be able to go to my parents house in the county. About a 25 minute car ride. It took 4 hours on the bus and train. Now there is no bus out there. If you read this, hi mom! I'm not ignoring you!
posted by noriyori at 9:25 AM on April 2, 2009


Previously, for other cities as well.
posted by desjardins at 9:36 AM on April 2, 2009


In D.C., WMATA has been experimenting with NextBus, which provides the same type of information for buses. They even had a sorta-secret beta website. Sadly, their IT priorities and practices are pretty wacky, so they shut down the website and, of course, we'll be waiting here for it for some time to come.
posted by General Malaise at 9:52 AM on April 2, 2009


Many more transit systems are implementing AVL (automated vehicle location) systems these days. nextbus.com works with San Francisco, is implementing with Toronto and has a lot of other cities on board. Lots of European cities have real-time location info as well.

But for most transit systems they'd be better served by spending the money on more buses. Sad but true.
posted by GuyZero at 9:53 AM on April 2, 2009


Get a car, hippies!
posted by qvantamon at 10:13 AM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


TBF, that line isn't missing much. t_redline tends to tell you "delayed by 10 minutes" after you've been standing in a disabled train for half an hour.

When that happens, you can send an angry Twitter message to #mbtasux and be featured on mbtasux.com with all the other angry Twitterers. I think that site, even though it may need a little spit 'n polish, more accurately reflects realtime T status than the official feeds.
posted by Spatch at 10:27 AM on April 2, 2009


the Ginko bus service's fairly accurate count of when the next bus would arrive saved my skin in Besançon this summer. A good deal of the bus shelters had a little clock with the next arrival time, and I could check the website before leaving the house too.
posted by rubah at 11:18 AM on April 2, 2009


When I visited Seattle over spring break I managed to figure out the bus system, haphazardly. Some of the issues I had:

1) Half the time I got off at a stop or two later than I would have wanted because I was unfamiliar with the city and the driver wouldn't always announce what stops they were coming to. Part of this has to do with never riding a bus before. The worst was when I had to catch a ferry to Bainbridge island, but missed the stop closest to it. I ended up running from the transit center on 9th street to the ferry terminal, good thing it was late.

2) Using the hand dandy metro trip planner helped a bit. But after a few misses I would have to look up the exact location of each bus stops using google maps. Once I got off at a stop and spent a good deal of time looking in the wrong direction for the 2nd stop my next bus was was supposed to arrive at.

3) To catch a bus back to the Kingston/Edmonds ferry, I would end up going downtown first because that's where all the buses sort of congregated. It would be nice if there was a more cohesive "home base" for all the routes instead of a few stops. (There probably is, but I )

Often I would find myself in an unfamiliar area, without access to the trip planner and holding a map to a route in a different neighborhood. This meant lots of walking. I walked from EMP to Kerry Park, I walked from Aurora and 85th to Ballard, I didn't care because I got to explore and get lost.

And, well, it's a pretty awesome feeling when you pick a direction and end up where you wanted to be. I still don't think I got the bus system down completely, but it allowed me to see areas of the city that I normally wouldn't, stuff that was off the beaten path. Finding a place without having to whip out an internet device is going to be a forgotten skill one of these days. It was probably foolish not to research the area more, but I figured Liberal Urban Area = Cohesive Transit System.

Waiting was not a problem for me, usually. Knowing where the buses went is more of an issue. I would usually double the time it would take me in a car when estimating travel time. I found the posted schedules near stops to be %70 accurate, which was good enough for me.

One final thought: Riding in the hinge of a bendy bus is something one elects to do once.
posted by hellojed at 11:38 AM on April 2, 2009


A coworker just mentioned the perfect storm: merge onebusaway with the liquor store webpage, to find the fastest route to pickup a bottle of Chartreuse.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:42 AM on April 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


merge onebusaway with the liquor store webpage

The Beer Hunter. Once Google Transit get Toronto coverage, *boom*.
posted by GuyZero at 11:53 AM on April 2, 2009


But that assumes toronto has any decent beer to drink...
posted by mrzarquon at 12:34 PM on April 2, 2009


Yeah, Boston needs this. Getting a text of "the Red Line is experiencing 10-15 minute delays" is pretty useless, especially because it's never a 10 minute delay. It's either no perceptible delay, or it's 45 minutes.

Also, I'd like them to eliminate the phrase "there is another train directly behind this one" from their vocabulary, as it is also a lie.
posted by marginaliana at 1:03 PM on April 2, 2009


I use it all the time and the reason OneBusAway is significantly different than the average metro GPS-enabled website is twofold:
1. The interface is really awesome, I use the iphone interface all the time and it's minimized the effort down to a minimum, significantly fewer clicks to get where you want with no unnecessary pictures to slow down mobile browsing.
2. More importantly, all bus stops around here have huge spraypainted numbers on the bus stop (or smaller ones on the route schedule), and you can simply pop that 5-digit number into OneBusAway and it will instantly show you the bus schedule on where you are. No typing in addresses and guessing where you are.

Note: It's not primarily used for people who don't know which bus to take, the iphone bus routing in Google Maps is unsurpassed (but doesn't provide realtime information). OneBusAway is used for those of us that know the route, just want to know when the friggin bus is coming.
posted by amuseDetachment at 3:01 PM on April 2, 2009


> OneBusAway is used for those of us that know the route, just want to know when the friggin bus is coming.

I don't know if it was an early version of onebusaway, but there was as a similar iPhone web page a few months ago that almost worked, except that it was so AJAXY you couldn't bookmark a specific stop. OneBusAway uses proper linkable urls, so I now have a home screen with all my commute relevant stops on it, making it a lot easier to figure out what stop to head towards.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:32 PM on April 2, 2009


Ever since Bus Monster died a quiet death I've been hoping for a replacement. Glad to see it was born to halt the frustration of missing your ride.

10 minutes to go for my ride!
posted by llin at 4:35 PM on April 2, 2009


If Atlanta had this, perhaps I wouldn't have sunk quite so deeply into the mud this morning. My bus comes every morning (for now) at exactly between 6:08 and 6:38. Or so.
posted by classa at 5:23 PM on April 2, 2009


Half the time I got off at a stop or two later than I would have wanted because I was unfamiliar with the city and the driver wouldn't always announce what stops they were coming to.

If you ask them to announce a particular stop, they will tell you.
posted by grouse at 8:37 PM on April 2, 2009


Just to clarify, Mrzarquon is right in that it's just rehashing data that's just available. Also, the buses are not equipped with GPS, it just tracks the odometer readings or something and guesstimates the time. That's why whenever the buses run different routes, the site (and all sites using this data) becomes useless. [source]

That said, OneBusAway + iPhone = me as a happy commuter.

While at Rutgers University, they started utilizing GPS on the bus system through Nextbus.com and it was super convenient and awesome. Seattle needs to get in on some of that.
posted by carpyful at 9:03 PM on April 2, 2009


> GPS on the bus system through Nextbus.com and it was super convenient and awesome. Seattle needs to get in on some of that.

Actually, we have nextbus here! YAYYY

Oh wait, its just for the SLUT...

Someone needs to make a simple and cheap (as in <>These guys have something for $395, but I am sure it would not be to hard to make something cheaper, especially if it was going to be a long term contract with the state, and you got your logo slapped on the side of the bus ("real time tracking information provided by XYZ and Nextbus!, learn how to use it for your own business at xyz.com").

That, and some cheap LED signs + embedded edge / 3g connected machine to drive signs at heavily trafficked stops, and you can wire up a whole lot of stops with signage for the cheap.

Oh, and before someone says the money would be better spent on buying more buses: a Diesel Hybrid bus could cost between $150,000-$500,000. You could GPS up whole lot of buses (at $100 a pop) for that much, possibly every bus in NYC. So which do you want: possibly one to five more buses or knowing where the god damn bus you are waiting on is?

And for the cost of a new bus, I would hope that the bus manufacturers would be smart enough to just include GPS tracking systems for free.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:14 PM on April 2, 2009


> as in <>These guys have something for $395

Wow, my html got eaten. As in less than $100, these guys have something for $395.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:15 PM on April 2, 2009


Vancouver's TransLink (public operating company) has some cool stuff:

NextBus by SMS (Try it - TXT 50186 to the number 33333) You get your next buses, and an advert

A blog to get the inside scoop.

A YouTube channel for operational updates and other stuff.

iPhone website

Mobile website

and, of course, Google Transit
posted by SSinVan at 12:18 AM on April 3, 2009


Riding the 358 is crazy!
posted by augustweed at 1:11 AM on April 3, 2009


Nextbus is a pretty great service. Paired with schedules, you always know exactly how late you are going to be due to the bus system never fucking being on schedule.

Strangely, the same website services several large American cities and... Guelph, Ontario, which is basically a university with a town wrapped around it.
posted by tehloki at 3:28 AM on April 3, 2009


Oh! It appears the service is coming to Toronto. Well, I look forward to it being borderline useless over there, too.
posted by tehloki at 3:29 AM on April 3, 2009


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