Riders' Report on Metro's NextBus System
This week, we've been testing out Metro's NextBus system, which I hope will make Metrobus service predictable enough to get a lot of people to try buses when they might otherwise drive. I'd like to share some of our experiences, both positive and negative.
Post reporters Greg Gaudio and Mark Berman and I, your traffic columnist, spot checked the NextBus system in downtown Washington, Alexandria, Rosslyn, Court House, Silver Spring, Bethesda and Prince George's Plaza. We were looking to learn anything that might be useful to people just starting to use the system designed to let you know when the bus really will be at your stop. We'll have more about this on the Commuter page (page 2 of the Post Metro section) on Sunday, but here's some of what we experienced.
-- On Wednesday morning, I ended one round of checks by using a mobile phone to call up the time for the next J2. The readout from the NextBus mobile Web site said "ARRIVING." I looked up from my bench at the Bethesda Metrobus bay, and there was a J2 pulling up to the stop. That happened a lot, wherever we were at whatever time of day.
-- But not always. When the NextBus information was off, the system quite frequently predicted an arrival a couple of minutes later than the real arrival time.
-- There were some times when no bus would show up around the predicted time, or a bus would arrive that didn't appear to be on the schedule.
-- We couldn't always find the NextBus ID shield at bus stops, although the stops were listed as part of the NextBus system on the mobile site and travel time information was available for them there. (If you're using the phone-in version, the automated voice will ask you for the bus stop ID number on the shield before giving you the arrival information.)
-- Calling in from the Bethesda bus bay, I couldn't get the automated system to recognize the bus stop ID number I tapped in. This happened several times.
-- At the stop on 16th and M streets NW, which is served by several routes, I used the bus stop ID to call up arrival information from the NextBus mobile site. But it would give me information only about the S1. It said "No Prediction," which was fair, since the S1 wasn't scheduled to stop there.
-- Sometimes the phone-in voice recognition system gets confused if there's background noise at your location.
-- Try it, but be prepared for variable experiences. Don't be too fine in timing your arrival at the bus stop, based on what NextBus is telling you. It's one thing to miss a rush hour bus that arrives every 10 minutes but quite another to arrive two minutes late for a bus that won't come again for half an hour.
-- The first thing you want to say to the automated voice on the phone-in line is "NextBus."
-- You can bookmark a mobile Web readout of a particular route or stop for future reference.
-- I found NextBus's mobile Web service helpful in figuring out where the bus stops are located on an unfamiliar route.
-- If you're aboard a Metrobus for a long trip, you can continue using the NextBus service to figure out what time you'll arrive at your destination.
Do our experiences with NextBus sound familiar? Please add your own comments about the new service. What's working well now and what would you like to see improved? What are your tips for users?
August 6, 2009; 9:08 AM ET
Categories: Commuting , Metro , transit | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, NextBus
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