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Metro: 'Next Bus' System to Return in July

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. started off his online discussion today with an update on the late, lamented Next Bus system, intended to provide real time information about bus arrivals.

Catoe said the system that was taken down in October 2007 for lengthy repairs should be back in July. He ordered it taken down because the information wasn't accurate enough often enough.

Recently, some bus riders discovered an online test site and began using it.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have kind of a mystery for you about the NextBus system. I write a blog about Columbia Heights called New Columbia Heights and also for DCist.

One of the DCist writers found that NextBus seemed to be working for WMATA, so I wrote about it on my blog -- a NextBus staffer then commented on the post and said it's a test version, but WMATA gave them a green light, and please use it. When Sommer from DCist asked WMATA about it, they said it wasn't ready and shut it down.

Suddenly, I'm the bad guy, because apparently I unearthed some secret and people claim WMATA had never wanted NextBus to work anyway, and used this as an excuse to shut it down (again). WMATA said it'll be awhile before the site is up. It seems like NextBus and WMATA aren't on the same page about the site, maybe you could look into that and why it's not up and running at all - it's been a few years.
Andrew Wiseman

Catoe addressed that. Here's part of what he said:
"The return of NextBus is highly anticipated by many bus riders, and by many who were able to gain access to an internal test site over the last few months. We have restricted access to that test site, which has disappointed a number of people. Those people who were using the system have reported in blogs that the system was working well for them, and I'm pleased to hear that.

"However, I have to take a much wider view of NextBus and the accuracy of its predictions. Launching a "beta" version may make sense for software developers, it doesn't make sense for Metro. Before NextBus is fielded again, I have to be sure that it will work well for all of our bus riders.

"If we allow access to a test site, then we are in effect launching that site and service. That means we need to be ready to give anyone and everyone using that site our full attention if they have problems and complaints. All the disclaimers in the world won't make any practical difference. If we were to allow access to the site, then, potentially, there would be hundreds of thousands trying to use something that just isn't ready for prime time, yet."

Be patient a few more months, Catoe asked. He wants to make sure the redesigned system will be accurate at least 95 percent of the time, a significant improvement over its performance as of fall 2007.

By Robert Thomson  |  March 6, 2009; 4:26 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Comments

What a joke. How about a metro system which doesn't malfunction on a daily basis.

Based on what he said we should shut down the metro because it doesn't operate 100% of the time.

Oh I forgot - they did so well on inauguration day, nevermind.

Posted by: blafhhhh | March 6, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

What's really sad is that the unpublished beta wasn't hurting anyone, but was really helping the large number of people who knew about it. As this drama played out over the last 10 days, I was willing to hope that maybe this tempest could make an impact on WMATA, so others could share the beta. It's now clear, as I feared, that our pleas fell on deaf ears, and no one will get to use NextBus before WMATA decides it's perfect enough to launch.

Maybe now the bloggers who not only wrote about the beta but also recklessly asked WMATA about it -- Dave, Andrew, and Sommer -- will understand why not everyone thought it was such a good idea.

As for Catoe's comments, I can barely restrain my contempt. At best, they underscore WMATA's basic failure to understand the development and deployment of technology: "We can't release anything until it is perfect, because one mis-reported data point is as important as 100,000 accurrate ones." Is it really more important to have no complaints on NextBus than myriad complaints about the bus schedule? (Which surely under-represents the public's view, because really who bothers?)

At worst, the proffered excuse is a smokescreen and WMATA is deliberately lying about the real reason -- probably budgets and contracts. I personally find it utterly mendacious to hold up the sanctity of their complaint-handling process as a reason for anything. As if the problems of individual, inconvenienced riders have ever had the "full and complete" attention of that organization!

As for the 18-month estimate, it's not "fairly accurrate" until we see the official launch. Here's a countdown clock to August 1, 2009: http://tinyurl.com/akm68w Shall we place bets on when NextBus will actually go-live?

Posted by: jsmjr | March 6, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I will look forward to the launch of the site. I might take the bus more if I can get good arrival information.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | March 6, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: blafhhhh | March 6, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Seems they failed at removing all access. Let's see how long it lasts

http://test.nextbus.com/googleMap/googleMap.jsp?a=wmata&r=42#

Posted by: blafhhhh | March 6, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Metro = fail

Posted by: blafhhhh | March 6, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

oh it's live all right. i live right at the spot where the bus turns around at Mt. Pleasant (Lamont St) and just watched the arrow come down Mt. Pleasant st and right when it said it was going to be turning the corner on Lamont St I ran outside and there it was... sweet. this helps me out a lot. haha. easy ride to adams morgan

Posted by: jkallen001 | March 6, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

though i must say it's a bit jumpy. sometimes the arrows don't move for a while...

Posted by: jkallen001 | March 6, 2009 7:19 PM | Report abuse

nevermind... it's down now. now it's asking for a login and password! :-(

b*stards!

Posted by: jkallen001 | March 6, 2009 7:21 PM | Report abuse

This makes it abundantly clear that John Catoe is a nuts and bolts guy (and a bureaucrat), he is NOT a technology guy. Somewhere, there should be a CIO or CTO explaining that 95% of the functioning companies in the world do what NextBus had been doing, and that they should take the free beta testing with a grain of salt. I don't blame Catoe for his ignorance, but I do blame whoever is minding the contract, and these execs who are getting paid a lot of money to not understand how the world works in 2009.

And don't even get us started about Google Transit!!!

Posted by: vtavgjoe | March 6, 2009 10:23 PM | Report abuse

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