Confession: I hate GoTime. For years, it drove me nuts that my lack of a cell phone meant I couldn’t get on-street bus information. And then, once I got my first crappy Canadian cell plan, I begrudged spending my precious daytime minutes on basic schedule information. To make matters worse, GoTime was often off base.
Few things are worse than standing outside in the drizzle, with a dying phone to your ear, hearing, “The next bus on route… 10… is scheduled to depart in… one minute,” only to proceed to wait 20 minutes for the #10 to arrive.
So it is with great joy that I say goodbye to GoTime, and hello to real-time.
Halifax Transit has announced its new Departures line, going live on Monday May 16th with real-time bus information available to callers. Only three-quarters of our buses are fully equipped with the new GPS equipment right now, so the system will be”‘mostly” real-time until the remaining buses are outfitted sometime this summer.
Regardless, starting Monday transit riders can call 480-8000 for departure times. All existing GoTime numbers will redirect to the new system. After punching in the stop number printed on bus stop signs, riders will hear which buses are departing from that stop and when. You can check out the full how-to here. Until all buses are equipped, you’ll just have to pay attention to whether your bus is “estimated to arrive” at a certain time (using real-time data) or “scheduled to arrive.”
Real time bus information may actually save time for riders. A Seattle study found that both actual and perceived wait times decreased for people getting real-time bus info. So not only will people feel like they are waiting less, they actually will be waiting less.
Of course, knowing your bus is late doesn’t stop your bus from being late. (That’s what transit priority measures are for.) It does, however, mean you don’t have to wait as long at the bus stop. Instead, you can run an errand or stop to smell the flowers. Or at least stay out of the cold and/or rain. Time you would have spent in frustration at a bus stop is your own again. You can stay somewhere safe and warm until you know your bus is coming. That’s a big improvement for rider experience.
Real-time data should also vastly improve Halifax Transit’s own understanding of how its system works. Transit planners will have a play-by-play picture of where buses are being held up, and by how much. Not only will they be able to respond better to major disruptions (in real time!), but they will be able to plan better. In the war against late buses, knowledge is power. In this case, data is power, as long as Halifax Transit has enough staff working to analyze that data.
The only thing that could make this better news is if our new real-time data was being released as open data, for use by third parties like app developers and Google Transit. Apps have already revolutionized how many people take transit. I’ll go so far as to say that the trip planning capabilities of Google Transit actually make it possible for infrequent users like me get around by transit.
The wait for Google Transit users will be short. “Real-time reporting through Google Transit will be available within the next several months,” says city spokesperson Tiffany Chase, “but we are waiting until the system is fully installed and operational on the entire fleet.”
But for app developers like the local creators of the popular Transit 360, the wait will be longer. “Real-time information will not be available through open data as of yet,” says Chase, though they plan to do it eventually. “We are currently focused on getting the GPS system fully installed and operational, and introducing additional system functionality over the coming months, including a web-based Departures application and bus stop annunciation.”
There is a list of things Transit could do to improve service and ridership that would cost little or nothing. First and foremost, get out of the last century and get on-line route maps into a more user friendly mode and get away from the smartphone-unfriendly PDF format.
Also, push the bridges to have a bus only toll lane so they can get around the hundreds of single passenger vehicles that plug up the toll plazas.
Also a transit app that allows you to subscribe to specific bus routes and lets you know if the bus is running late and other useful information would help riders a lot.
One of my persistent issues with Halifax Transit is buses that pass my stop BEFORE their scheduled arrival by 3,,5, or more minutes. I’m down the block, hurrying to get to the stop a couple minutes early, and I see my bus scooting by. IMHO buses should never be early at any stop. Late is much less aggrevation.
And please get the real time open data, even if incomplete, out to Transit 360 ASAP. They’ll do a good job using it, making up for deficiencies at Metro Transit.
Metro Transit management has demonstrated repeatedly over the decades we’ve know each other that is seriously unconcerned about really serving the riders it has with useful information. No useful schedule and route signs at stops. Crappy GoTime interface. No wonder ridership does not grow.
I’ll admit I have a bit of “believe it when I see it” doubt, since this was initially what was promised for Go Time when it launched in the early 90s, but if this works properly it will be a huge improvement. One benefit you don’t mention is allowing riders to make informed decisions. I have several possible routes I can take from work to home – some are faster than others and some require transfers. If I know when buses are coming I can choose to take the slower bus now or wait a few minutes for the faster bus, and I’ll know whether my connections are likely to work. With Go Time I often take the slow route because the direct isn’t due for 20 minutes, then see the direct bus pull up as I’m leaving — or I wait for the direct bus due in a few minutes and it comes 20 minutes later.
This is an improvement, but real time information is an expensive and complex solution that doesn’t solve the problem of late buses. If you can keep the buses on schedule, you can just post the times at every stop. If you rely on a bus to get somewhere by a certain time, it doesn’t help to get to the stop and find out it’s ten minutes late. Keeping the buses on time requires good route planning and good supervision. Running multiple routes across the Macdonald bridge means a delay there puts over a dozen routes behind schedule. Real time information also does not reduce the current lengthy travel times. I can see benefits, but putting time and money into better service, instead of reports on the existing service, might have more bang for the buck.
In an ideal world the buses would run on time, but unfortunately it is just not humanly possible in a traffic zone like Halifax to keep busses on time as long as they are part of traffic.
The real-time GPS based system will be a marked improvement.
The City needs to push ahead for more dedicated bus advantages like the advance green lights. The third lane on the MacDonald bridge should be designated a High Occupancy Lane which would facilitate busses, car pooling and efficient5 vehicles like electric vehicles, scooters and motorcycles.
I’m a frequent transit user. For anything other than my usual commute, I use Google Transit. I sometimes have to “game” it (plan by segments instead of full trips when I know better connections) but it’s invaluable. Looking forward to GPS feeding into it.