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Taking the Uncertainty Out of Bus Travel

Waiting on Mass Ave (2).jpg
"Where's the bus?" is the question for people waiting at shelter. (Thomson)

Some of the longest moments of a traveler's day are spent gazing down the avenue, hoping to catch sight of an approaching bus, as you see in the photo above. But in a week and a half, riders may be able to turn their attention to more productive waiting games.

Lena H. Sun wrote in Sunday's Post about Metro's plan to bring back NextBus on July 1. If it works the way it's supposed to, NextBus will be the biggest breakthrough in transit this year.

We already have new Circulator bus routes in DC. That's good. The Circulator buses are distinctive looking, they charge an easy to remember fare of $1, the stops have easy to understand maps showing their routes and the buses arrive on an easy to remember 10 minute schedule. We also have new limited stop services from Metro, like the S9 on 16th Street, also with a distinctive design for the bus and an easy to remember schedule of every 10 minutes.

metro next_bus_signs.jpg Look for stop and phone number. (Metro photo)

This NextBus thing is better, because it's bigger. You'll find a red, white and blue shield on the bus stop pole giving the ID number of the bus stop and the phone number to call to get the next bus time for almost 12,000 stops. Or you can call it up from the Metro Web site. Here's an image of what that looks like.

It should make a bus trip much more appealing to people who would otherwise shun the transit service because they have no idea when the bus is going to arrive. (Nobody believes the printed schedules.)

It's supposed to be accurate to within a couple of minutes. That's pretty good, but here's the thing to watch for: That means a couple of minutes either way. It's not so bad if the bus is a couple of minutes late. That's a lot better than 15 minutes of not knowing what's going on. But what if you're checking the arrival time by desktop computer from home or office and the bus turns out to be two minutes early? Now you've missed it and have to wait for the next round.

[Lena plans to join me for the weekly online discussion at noon today. You can ask her all about this. We'll take all your traffic and transit questions. Here's the link for the discussion. And here's the one in case you'd like to submit a question or comment in advance.]

By Robert Thomson  |  June 22, 2009; 9:07 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrobus, NextBus  
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WMATA seems to have forgotten about the most obvious (and useful) way to ask for (and receive) NextBus updates: text messaging! Not all cell phones are web-enabled, but virtually all support text messaging.

And, texting is less time consuming that calling a number, waiting for an answer and then entering the bus stop number. Some phones even allow to you save text messages, so that you could save key bus stop numbers and simply send them when you need the NextBus information.

Posted by: rogerwilson | June 22, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

What about an iPhone app? This could be something really easy and really quick.

The Brits do this really well in London, so do the Finns in Helsinki. In Helsinki, you can even pay your fare on your phone. One can only dream...

Posted by: andrewholland | June 22, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

too bad the circulator never runs every 10 minutes. instead, you'll wait 20 minutes for the bus, and then see 2 back to back. is it really that hard to stay on schedule.

the only way this would work is if there was a GPS unit on the bus itself, and that could be monitored. just using schedules is a waste of time.

Posted by: fahdp | June 22, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

As usual, we remain behind Europe in the quality and quantity of transit services. I have been to cities, where each bus stop has a GPS-enabled bus tracking system, that lets everyone at the stop know exactly when the next bus will arrive. Of course, in most places buses are frequent and on time, something Metrobus has never mastered.

Posted by: kdabbah | June 22, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Dramatic pictures available online. It will surprise me if more are not killed. Loaded trains in a train wreck. Tragic.

Posted by: blasmaic | June 22, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

We have had this in Minneapolis on the website and over the phone for a couple years. A lot of people use it because it's nice to know on a cold Minnesota morning how long it will be before the bus arrives. And like the article says it's a lot more trustworthy then the printed schedule.

Posted by: jeanigo1 | June 22, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

At last some good news! It's about time!

Posted by: deejoshy | June 23, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

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