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NextBus System Well Worth a Try

One thing my colleagues Mark Berman and Greg Gaudio noticed at Metrobus stops last week as we were spot checking the performance of Metro's new real-time arrival predictor: There appeared to be no one else using the service.

At least, we couldn't spot anyone holding up a cellphone and saying, "NextBus" into it, or doing anything with a mobile device other than listening to music or tapping out messages. Our spot check of the NextBus system's performance showed us some of the problems you need to be aware of -- buses arriving earlier than predicted, for example -- but it also showed how useful it can be.

I found that the more I used either the phone-in service (202-637-7000) or the mobile Web site, the easier it got, and I expect to be using it a lot to plan transit trips.

Look here to see our Commuter page review of our experiences. You'll find some suggestions for how to get the most out of NextBus and what problems you might encounter.

Suzanne Peck, an assistant general manager with Metro, told me that NextBus accuracy is at 90 percent in the early going -- it just started last month -- and she's looking at improvements in hardware, software and training that will bring that up.

Couple of cases: We found that not all the bus stops have the red, white and blue NextBus shield, which has the phone-in number and the bus stop ID number. They were missing at the Silver Spring bus bays, at a couple of bus bays at Prince George's Plaza and along Wisconsin Avenue, for example. Peck said that Metro employees are making a sweep in search of such places and hope to have either shields or decals up at all the stops in a couple of weeks.

Sometimes, a bus will disappear from the monitoring system. You might be looking at the mobile Web site and it's telling you the next bus won't be there for half an hour. Then you look up and there's a bus arriving. This can happen if the driver makes a mistake and fails to turn on the GPS, or somehow turns it off during the trip. Peck said that drivers will be reminded how to deal with the technology.

You may very well want to avoid walking to or standing at bus stops during this heatwave, but once the temps drop a little, try NextBus to plan a trip. With all the Metrorail problems we've been having, this is a good time to do a little experimenting with the buses.

By Robert Thomson  |  August 10, 2009; 1:12 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrobus, NextBus  
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Dr. G, how can you tell people tapping out messages on their phone aren't checking the Next bus mobile site? That is the only way I have accessed it. So far I have found it to be pretty accurate, other than when a bus is not picked up by the system at all (GPS not turned on). I'm glad to see they brought back the Next Scheduled Departure link on the mobile page because this is useful to atleast get a schedule for ride-on buses (and other bus systems). Any plans to add the other local bus systems to the Next Bus system?

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | August 10, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

The NextBusDC app for the iPhone has been great to me thus far. I had one minor issue, it predicted a bus would arrive in 5 minutes, and ten minutes later, it was still saying 5 minutes. When the time actually began to decrease, however, it was accurate and had reached zero just as the bus was pulling up to the stop. If anyone has an iPhone, I highly recommend downloading the app, it's the best $2.99 I've spent on an iPhone app so far.

Posted by: bolevar2382 | August 10, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I live in Shirlington and use Metrobus as my primary source of transportation. Shirlington's bus station does not have any Next Bus Stop IDs. Without knowing the Bus Stop IDs, you can't use Next Bus. I have been asking for the table(s) that shows the bus stop locations with their Next Bus Stop IDs for the bus routes I take, but have gotten no response. Why is that information kept a secret? I was able to walk around and find the closest bus stop IDs for some of the bus routes, but not all of them. The online Next Bus tool shows locations, but it doesn't show Next Bus Stop IDs. I use my cellphone to call the Next Bus service. Please ask Metrobus and Arlington County to provide the tables that show bus stop locations with their Next Bus ID for bus routes 25, 7, 10, 9, 22, 23 and 16. Thank you.

Posted by: googlamonster | August 11, 2009 5:38 AM | Report abuse

One solution to the lack of Bus stop id's at some stops would be for the list of Bus Routes to be more organized. Currently you have to scroll through every single route until you reach your desired route. Anyway they could add a page where you choose the first letter (or number) of your route, similiar to how they have the next train information organized? FOr next train, you are taken to a page with the text "My station begins with:" and then choices of AB, CD, EF, GHJKL, MNP, UVW. Couldn't something similar be created for all the bus routes? I think it would make navigation much easier.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | August 11, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I am happy to report that Next Bus IDs have been established for the Shirlington bus station. The mounted display shields appeared yesterday evening at the station. If Dr. Gridlock had anything to do with this, I thank him.

Posted by: googlamonster | August 15, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

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