Urban Public Transit Done Right

Metronauts, eat your hearts out. :)

Was back in Vancouver yesterday. It was a glorious day – the kind that you write in your blog about. Anyway, rode the bus downtown for several meetings and noticed this sign:

text a bus sched

In short, you can now text “33333” + the identifying number found on every bus stop in Vancouver and… the arrival times of the next 6 scheduled buses will be texted to you.

Now this schedule is probably static and does not adjust for the fact that specific buses may be running late, caught in traffic, blown a tire, etc… But it is a start.

Anything that gives transit users more information is a good thing, especially if that means it will raise their expectations around the timeliness and predictability of service (as I suspect this will). A traffic that is more demanding of its public transport is more invested in its public transport.

I can already see the logical next step… Imagine a transit user sends a text to find out when the next bus will arrive. When that bus (and possibly the subsequent bus) fails to show up he/she starts looking for a complaints or information line to call. Their expectation is going to be that the person on the other end of the line can answer the question: “Where is my bus.” The obvious conclusion to this scenario – take the GPS emitters that are on every bus and open up their API’s so that we can all see where they are. It is going to rock transit users’ worlds when they can open up google maps on their phones and search “Vancouver, Transit, 22” and see the current location of all the 22 buses.

Translink you’ve opened a pandora’s box of expectations for this user. It is a good first step.

[BTW: Transit geeks in Vancouver should already be reading this blog, which, of course, was on the case long before me. Long live the long tail of blogs.]

19 thoughts on “Urban Public Transit Done Right

  1. Andrew

    I’ve used this service quite a bit. Especially when I end up taking a bus I don’t normally take. It’s great and extremely helpful.

    Reply
  2. Andrew

    I’ve used this service quite a bit. Especially when I end up taking a bus I don’t normally take. It’s great and extremely helpful.

    Reply
  3. Karen

    David, your title in the post makes me laugh. I just got back from Hong Kong, where on a *bad* day they radio you from the control room to tell you on the train how long until the train you can transfer to at the next station arrives, because their automatic system has a glitch.

    Another story: Vancouver has very recently installed pixelboards at the front of all buses to show and announce the next stop, similar to what’s been implemented at the beginning of the year for Toronto streetcars. This morning, I was riding a bus on Hastings which turned out to be a rerouted bus from SFU – because the pixelboard was showing “Production Way bay 1”, a Skytrain station on the other side of Burnaby, the whole time!

    All this to say, the systems definitely have some settling to do, though the intention is certainly there and appreciated.

    Reply
  4. Karen

    David, your title in the post makes me laugh. I just got back from Hong Kong, where on a *bad* day they radio you from the control room to tell you on the train how long until the train you can transfer to at the next station arrives, because their automatic system has a glitch.Another story: Vancouver has very recently installed pixelboards at the front of all buses to show and announce the next stop, similar to what’s been implemented at the beginning of the year for Toronto streetcars. This morning, I was riding a bus on Hastings which turned out to be a rerouted bus from SFU – because the pixelboard was showing “Production Way bay 1”, a Skytrain station on the other side of Burnaby, the whole time!All this to say, the systems definitely have some settling to do, though the intention is certainly there and appreciated.

    Reply
  5. Jeremy Vernon

    I’ve now had extensive experience with four major transit systems in this country (being, as I am, entirely transit dependent) and I can say without hesitation that Vancouver kicks the tar out of Victoria, Ottawa and Toronto when it comes to transit convenience.

    The TTC only implemented accessibility features like the pixel board and stop announcement because they were quite literally taken to court (twice!) and forced to do so by the courts – hardly the precedent for innovation and customer satisfaction.

    We still lack an interactive route map, a trip planner or even a user-friendly display of arrival times.

    I’m a computer programmer and I have trouble deciphering the Visicalc matrix of times they post. I’d sooner look at the bottom of my teacup.

    Reply
  6. Jeremy Vernon

    I’ve now had extensive experience with four major transit systems in this country (being, as I am, entirely transit dependent) and I can say without hesitation that Vancouver kicks the tar out of Victoria, Ottawa and Toronto when it comes to transit convenience.The TTC only implemented accessibility features like the pixel board and stop announcement because they were quite literally taken to court (twice!) and forced to do so by the courts – hardly the precedent for innovation and customer satisfaction.We still lack an interactive route map, a trip planner or even a user-friendly display of arrival times. I’m a computer programmer and I have trouble deciphering the Visicalc matrix of times they post. I’d sooner look at the bottom of my teacup.

    Reply
  7. Ken Hardie

    Real time info is next for Metro Vancouver transit. The new radio system includes GPS so Transit Control will know where all the buses are, reader boards at key stops will display the actual time of arrival of the next bus and, in all likelihood, cell phone and pda users will also get that info.

    Reply
  8. Ken Hardie

    Real time info is next for Metro Vancouver transit. The new radio system includes GPS so Transit Control will know where all the buses are, reader boards at key stops will display the actual time of arrival of the next bus and, in all likelihood, cell phone and pda users will also get that info.

    Reply
  9. David Eaves Post author

    Ken,

    Two things. First, that is fantastic news. Unbelievably exciting really – it is exactly what we need and I’m thrilled to hear TransitLink is all over it.

    Second: Almost equally exciting to me is the simple fact that you showed up and commented on this blog. Many transit organizations are either a) completely unaware of the internet or b) borderline hostile/confused to the online community of transit geeks that blog about transit in their cities. The story of TransitCamp in Toronto and the eventual evolution of Metronauts is one of the few great case study about overcoming this resistance. The fact you were here commenting as a transit person speaks volumes about TransitLink and its vision. (Indeed, it makes me feel that the case for a TransitCamp in Vancouver might be even stronger…)

    (Indeed, I once again believe my Metronaut band members may be eating their hearts out…)

    Reply
  10. David Eaves

    Ken,Two things. First, that is fantastic news. Unbelievably exciting really – it is exactly what we need and I’m thrilled to hear TransitLink is all over it.Second: Almost equally exciting to me is the simple fact that you showed up and commented on this blog. Many transit organizations are either a) completely unaware of the internet or b) borderline hostile/confused to the online community of transit geeks that blog about transit in their cities. The story of TransitCamp in Toronto and the eventual evolution of Metronauts is one of the few great case study about overcoming this resistance. The fact you were here commenting as a transit person speaks volumes about TransitLink and its vision. (Indeed, it makes me feel that the case for a TransitCamp in Vancouver might be even stronger…)(Indeed, I once again believe my Metronaut band members may be eating their hearts out…)

    Reply
  11. Timmi

    Oh Dave. You just broke my heart a little…
    “A transit user text’s to find out when the next bus is.”

    Text’s? *tsk tsk*

    Reply
  12. Timmi

    Oh Dave. You just broke my heart a little… “A transit user text’s to find out when the next bus is.”Text’s? *tsk tsk*

    Reply
  13. David Eaves Post author

    Timmi – oh no! I’ve fixed the error but I’m not sure I can mend your heart…

    Grammar and spelling are not always my strongest forte… as many a reader has (helpfully!) pointed out. It doesn’t help that my writing sometimes takes place during the more nocturnal hours. Sigh. Excuses, excuses…

    Reply
  14. David Eaves

    Timmi – oh no! I’ve fixed the error but I’m not sure I can mend your heart…Grammar and spelling are not always my strongest forte… as many a reader has (helpfully!) pointed out. It doesn’t help that my writing sometimes takes place during the more nocturnal hours. Sigh. Excuses, excuses…

    Reply
  15. gorete

    DavidDo you have or know of any information around the success of this program? Specially usage? stats?thanks

    Reply
  16. david_a_eaves

    Great questions – I haven't browsed the translink website closely but I haven't heard anything or seen anything. If anyone has seen anything please post the link and I'll see if I can dig something up.

    Reply

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