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Posted at 11:18 AM ET, 12/ 9/2010

30% of buses 6+ minutes off schedule

By Luke Rosiak

Metro this morning took the second major step of its initiative to make information on service disruptions, routes and timetables public and available in digital form, by adding API methods for buses. Rail info has been provided since August.

Among other possibilities, the realtime bus positions, which indicate how many minutes ahead or behind of schedule a bus is running, offer a window into performance. At 10:30 this morning, there were 266 buses navigating the region, and a quarter were running 7 minutes or more behind. (Ten percent were at least 13 minutes late.) Ten percent were two minutes early, and 18 percent were right on the money, within a minute of schedule.

One 32 bus to Friendship Heights was 38 minutes late, and another on the N8 Glover Park line was 39 minute early. An S4 Federal Triangle bus was a half hour early, and an S80 to Metro Park was 35 minutes behind.

On the below map, yellow green dots indicate a bus that is between five minutes early and five minutes late. Yellow indicates a bus 5 to 15 minutes outside target, and red is for the worst offenders.

Click a bar below to see a route's name. Bars on the left represent delays, while those extending to the right are early arrivals.

The initiative has been heralded by technologists and riders--among others, the Post's DC Rider app lets you use your cell phone to easily check when the next train is departing your station--but it's also a boon for Metro, enabling third-party developers to do work that Metro could not or would not do.

It can also be a means for holding Metro accountable, as in the above timeliness test and the Post's escalator performance widget.

"The organization does have a history of clamping down on data when it is used in ways that don't reflect favorably on certain groups within WMATA," WMATA chief enterprise architect Jamey Harvey said at a meeting last night.

The agency will hold a developers contest, awarding a fully-loaded SmarTrip card to the creator of an app that best helps handicapped riders navigate the system or that facilitates multimodal access. Since bikeshare program CapitalBikeshare also publishes extensive electronic data, for example, a developer could easily write a program to plot the quickest route from A to B using bike, rail and bus.

But the agency was slow to incorporate its data into a widely-used Google transit format, and arrival time calculations provided by Nextbus are not yet available.

Metro said the 14 API methods released have long been used internally--using the bus info released today to, among other things, detect bus bunching, when several buses arrive right behind one another--so it's about time they let the public see the information that makes riding easier and allow for free-market competition to bring the best products to consumers.

Here's to Metro for advancing this effort, and to hoping they continue.

"We have data feeds internally that if we put them out to the world people would be naughty with them," Harvey said.

By Luke Rosiak  | December 9, 2010; 11:18 AM ET
Categories:  Metro, Metrobus  | Tags:  Online tools  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Minority firms seeks rail delay
Next: Delays on Metro's Blue Line

Comments

I find too many bus driver's do not pay attention to being on time.
The Ride-On route that I often use, is early most of the time, which tends to make the schedule irrelevant.

Posted by: Hattrik | December 9, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I think you meant to type "green: in this sentence: "On the below map, yellow dots indicate a bus that is between five minutes early and five minutes late."

Posted by: informedtraveller | December 9, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Are these calculations based on the GPS units, and if so, do bus drivers still have the ability to just turn off those GPS units if they are running late? If the answer is yes, then it is a self-selected sample, and many more buses may be off-schedule than it seems on this map.

Posted by: informedtraveller | December 9, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse


Only losers take buses, everyone knows that.

Posted by: kenk33 | December 9, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

The bar chart does not give the route number, which is relevant since there may be more than one route number covering the same origin/destination.
Also, I see no link to the Post's escalator widget in the choices to the left of the blog. Where are you hiding it?
Thanks.

Posted by: busgirl1 | December 9, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

@Hattrik - +1 here - I've had the same issue with RideOn buses leaving their first station as much as five minutes early. It's ridiculous.

One thing that I did discover - I once confronted my favorite driver on my route - I caught up with the bus by getting an express metro bus and transferring back to it, and we compared clocks. My cell phone clock (which keys off of the network, which is generally very accurate) was exactly 55 seconds behind the clock that the RideOn drivers use on their dispatch box. Ironically, the scrolling time & date on the bus - dead on with my cell phone.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | December 9, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

The bus is transportation of last resort- Build the Purple line rail now!

Posted by: 10bestfan | December 9, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

@busgirl1, just click on a dot and scroll down to see the route number.

Posted by: informedtraveller | December 9, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Sorry - I misread @busgirl1's post and now realize she asked about the bar chart, not the map.

Posted by: informedtraveller | December 9, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Bus SOP: if you are on time, the bus was early. If you are early, the bus will be very late. If you are late, it's a crapshoot.

The drivers act as though it's a race, rather than stick to the schedule.

Train SOP: The first train to show is the one going in the opposite direction you are. And if the board says an 8-car train is next, not always.

And only losers say public transport is for losers. What happened in you lives to make you such miserable people?

Posted by: jckdoors | December 9, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad to see this is being examined. Riding the bus has become an infurating experience for me due to schedule issues. Unfortunately, it's my daily commute. I usually ride the H6, and I don't even bother with a schedule any more because when the bus actually arrives/departs seems to be completely different, and arbitrary, every day. It really sucks never being able to time my arrival at the bus stop so as to not wait forever in the freezing cold or sweltering heat, or heaven forbid knowing if I'll get to work on time vs 25 mins late. The the bus drivers are never concerned or apologetic of course, they have never been held accountable before.

Posted by: SmeeAndMe | December 9, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad to see this is being examined. Riding the bus has become an infurating experience for me due to schedule issues. Unfortunately, it's my daily commute. I usually ride the H6, and I don't even bother with a schedule any more because when the bus actually arrives/departs seems to be completely different, and arbitrary, every day. It really sucks never being able to time my arrival at the bus stop so as to not wait forever in the freezing cold or sweltering heat, or heaven forbid knowing if I'll get to work on time vs 25 mins late. The the bus drivers are never concerned or apologetic of course, they have never been held accountable before.

Posted by: SmeeAndMe | December 9, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

@busgirl1 - I've updated the bar chart to show route numbers instead of destinations. The escalator widget currently lives at washingtonpost.com/transportation

Posted by: Luke Rosiak | December 9, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

As a follow-up to my 1:24 pm post, I would suggest that the headline "30% of buses 6+ minutes off schedule" needs to modified to something like "30% of buses (whose drivers had their GPS on during the survey period)were 6+ minutes off schedule", because unless NONE of the bus drivers in the Metro region are turning off the GPS transmitters in their buses, you cannot say that these results represent any percentage of buses: They only represent a percentage of the buses that happened to have their GPS units on at the time the snapshot was taken. To say anything else is misleading..Of course, this is assuming the map and bar chart data come from the GPS units, but that seems like the most likely assumption.

Posted by: informedtraveller | December 9, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

They're late because they're too busy running over pedestrians.

Posted by: B-rod | December 10, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

So WMATA's been tracking bus bunching? Have they taken steps to deal with the problem? If so, they don't seem to have helped on the S line during rush hour. At least once I week, I end up standing on the other side of 16th St. waiting for the light to change, watching three buses in a row depart from the stop I'm trying to reach.

Even if Metro's not going to be monitoring drivers in real time and telling them when to hold for de-bunching, it would be helpful if they could at least instruct drivers to stop for one light cycle if two buses have just gone through the intersection ahead of them.

Posted by: Liz_B | December 10, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

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