Category Archives: transit technology

One *really* good reason to use a smart phone

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I’m not a gadget person. I’m no Luddite (hey, I appreciate a useful tool as much as the next bus chick), but I’m no early adopter, either. I believe in using stuff “till the wheels fall off,”* if you’ll excuse the auto-inspired metaphor, and it feels wrong to get rid of something that works perfectly fine just because there’s something newerfasterbetter out there.

But folks, on Friday my Bus Nerd surprised me with a fancy new smart phone (which, by the way, he managed to obtain gratis), and I think I’ve found religion. Yes, I can use the phone to check e-mail and find restaurants and update my Facebook status and blah blah blah, but none of these is a good reason (in my book, anyway) to upgrade. What is a good reason? One Bus Away!

OBA makes an app for my fancy new phone, which means I am (finally!) able to experience its true power. I realize that this is old news for all you gadget geeks and hardcore transit nerds (Bus Nerd has to work not to roll his eyes every time I start a sentence with, “Did you know it can…?”), but bear with me. This is the best thing that’s happened in my bus life since I stopped experiencing motion sickness.

In the old days, checking bus times on my phone meant looking up a stop number or searching through a huge list of stop locations to find the one I needed. Most of the time, doing that work was more of a hassle for me than just waiting for the bus (and usually took just as long). Now that I have One Bus Away, I don’t have to do much more than tap my screen a couple of times. After I open the app, the GPS locates all the stops within a half mile of me, then tells me which routes stop there and which directions the buses are traveling. I click the stop I want, and it tells me how many minutes I’ll have to wait for each route. The end. The entire process takes less than 30 seconds.

The uses for this amazing (free!) application are almost innumerable. Some recent examples from my world:

Sunday, after church: It’s pouring. We’re close to missing the next 48 and don’t want to stand out in the weather for 30 minutes (or schlep kids + stuff +umbrellas back to the church building) if it passes the stop before we get there. OBA tells us that the 48 is three minutes late, which means we have time to make it. And we do.

Today, late morning: I have a meeting downtown shortly after the babysitter arrives at our house. I need to catch the next bus heading west, but the three options all serve different stops that are several blocks apart. I use OBA to determine my best option and make it to the stop seconds before the bus, which gets me downtown in plenty of time for my meeting.

I could go on, but I’m too lazy.

Every bus rider should possess this kind of power. Real-time arrival info at stops is helpful (Can we have this now, please?), as is real-time info in businesses and public buildings (using “transit appliances” like this one), but neither is as empowering as having the information at your fingertips.

I know I just said this about the 8 a few weeks ago, but I’m with Lily: One Bus Away has changed my life.


* For example: my laptop, which, after many years of regular use, has started making a frightening crunching/grinding sound every time I turn it on

Sightline talks transit tech

Last week, Sightline’s Eric Hess blogged about his experience using OneBusAway. His conclusion:

For me, it’s not a game-changer, but the reason is not the app; it’s the transit-friendly locations of my apartment and office. I’m lucky; I live in a neighborhood with a good bus system. My front door is within five minutes of three bus routes that take me straight to the office; all of them come pretty frequently at peak commute hours.

I’m never tempted to drive, since the bus ride takes about the same amount of time and let’s me catch up on reading. Plus, compared to the hundreds a month I’d spend on gas and parking, the bus is a steal. It’s the perqs of living in a walkable neighborhood close to the urban core and crisscrossed with transit lines that make my commute a breeze.

I absolutely agree that transit access (and especially frequent service) is far more important than any tool, but I also think the picture is bigger than how fast a person can get to work. Hess acknowledges that OneBusAway and similar tools would likely be more useful for someone who depended on one bus with infrequent service. Let me add that they are also extremely useful for people who use the bus for purposes other than commuting.

I don’t use phone tools nearly as much I could–both because my phone’s not the greatest and because I often find looking up the information to be as tedious as waiting–but on days when I’m clothes shopping with two kids and need to know when to put on hats and coats and head out into the cold and rain, or when I’m at a party on a (low-service) weekend night and would prefer chatting with friends to a lonely wait at a deserted stop, they make all the difference.

Trip planning on the go

Earlier today, I received a press release about Metro Mobile, a new, phone-friendly version of KC Metro’s Trip Planner created by benevolent bus rider Nicholas Barnard. I tried the tool for a few sample trips, and it works pretty well—at least, as well as can be expected on my somewhat bootleg phone.

The site lets you select from a list of default locations (libraries, the airport, et cetera). It also lets you set custom locations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t verify the locations before it saves them. I saved my home address, but when I tried to use it, I got that fun Metro page that asks you to select the correct address from a list of six possibilities, including the exact address you entered. It would be nice to be able to (re)select the correct address once and never have to see that page again. (Hey Metro, can we get that on the original Trip Planner, too?)

According to the press release, MM has a GPS feature that can detect your current location, but I couldn’t find it. Perhaps I need a fancier phone.

Even without address checking and GPS, Metro Mobile is a useful tool. I’ll definitely be using it in the real world.

Thanks, Nick!

Transportation round-up

  • The Best Bus Ride finalists have been selected. (I’ve already completed my official judging duties, which I thoroughly enjoyed.) You can vote for the people’s choice winner here. Voting ends Saturday, 11/20.  
  • now has video profiles of local undrivers. Love. I’ve just added Merlin Rainwater and Betty Holman to my list of sheroes.
  • Got ideas about how to improve transit in Seattle? SDOT wants to hear them. The city is in the process of updating its Transit Master Plan* and needs lots of feedback from citizens. (FYI, this citizen is a member of the TMP advisory committee. I’m certainly looking forward to providing my feedback.)
  • Community Transit hopes to prevent further service cuts with its new “Buy local for transit” program.
  • A real-time ridesharing pilot will start on the 520 corridor in January. If you’re interested in participating, sign up here.
  • The DOT has released a series of powerful videos to discourage distracted driving.


*This is not to be confused with the Seattle Planning Commission’s Seattle Transit Communities report, which I unfortunately haven’t read yet.

Bing adds transit trip planning

Bing Maps now offers transit directions. (‘Bout time!) From the Bing Community blog:

Commuters rejoice! Today Bing Maps added transit routing to its directions options. So, for those of you who like to take the bus, subway, or local rail you now can turn to Bing Maps. This is a very important feature for us as public transit grows in popularity and coverage. There are more than 10.7 billion public transit passenger trips per year in the US alone.

In this initial release (i.e. more to come) of Bing Maps transit directions, Bing Maps will cover 11 cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Jersey, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, and Vancouver.

So far, I like. The quick and dirty:

• The itineraries–at least the itineraries I tested–are accurate. (This is not a given, by the way.

• The UI is simple and clear, with some cool features, such as:

• It shows how many minutes you have to make a connection. (Sure, it’s possible to do the math in your head, but it’s nice to have the information called out.)

• It lists the stops before and after your destination stop. This is huge when you’re traveling in an unfamiliar neighborhood or city. (Of course, this feature won’t be necessary when we finally get automated stop announcements, but hey.)

• It lets you send an itinerary to an e-mail address or moblie device. (!!!)

Props to the folks at Microsoft for finally tapping the transit-geek market. (Unlike drivers, we can legally play with our Internet-enabled devices while we travel.)

I’ll report back after I use it in the real world.

More help finding a bus-chick-friendly neighborhood

The folks at Walk Score have stepped up their game. Earlier this week, they released Transit Score (via: TCC’s tweeters), a similar tool that assesses a particular location’s access to transit. From what I can tell so far, Seattle’s transit scores are lower, across the board, than its walk scores. Or maybe I’m just saying that to make myself feel better; my walkable, bus-full neighborhood only scored in the 60s*. Sure, the service could be more frequent, but I ain’t complainin’–at least not right now. I’ll be happy if all of my routes stay off the chopping block.

Speaking of rating walkability and transit access…

I finally had occasion to use Estately. Yes, that’s right folks: We’re moving this weekend–five blocks from where we live now. (Too bad we don’t know enough bike nerds to help us do a Portland-style bike move.) But more on all that later. Besides spending lots of time packing, we’ll be in Internet limbo for a few days and focusing our attention on getting Chicklet and Busling settled in their new home. Posts will be infrequent** for the remainder of the month.

*According to, a score in the 60’s = “good transit.”
**That is, less frequent than usual.

March news of note

One Bus Away, the user-friendly version of MyBus, won “Best Use of Technology in the Government, Nonprofit, or Educational Sector” at the Washington Technology Institute Association awards earlier this month.

A fancy tech award is nice and all, but OBA also receives all kinds of love on the streets. If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone using it on a mobile device or hyping it up to a friend… Case in point: My friend (and fellow bus mom) Lily, who started using the app recently, gushed about it during our get-together a couple of weeks ago. “It’s changed my life!” she told me–and she meant it. Now if that ain’t a ringing endorsement…

• And speaking of gushing… Most of you know that I’m a big fan of Undriving Ballard and their fun undriver licensing program. If UB hasn’t made it to your neighborhood yet (or if you missed them when they did) I have some good news: You can now apply for an undriver license online. Love.

Another successful bus engagement went down last week. Bus luh is alive and well, folks.

• If you’re interested in Detroit’s discussions about revamping its transportation infrastructure, you might enjoy this Free Press editorial. (via: Bus Nerd, of course)

Transportation in the news

• There’s a new, nationwide portal for transit applications. MyBus and OneBusAway are already in there. (Source: Mission-Sustainable)

• Transit riders and privacy groups are raising concerns about the way Orca collects and stores users’ travel data. They’re chatting about it over at STB.

• Link’s Seatac station is up and running. I missed the big ribbon-cutting (hey, it was at 8-something on Saturday morning!), and I’m not headed out of town anytime soon, but I’ll probably ride down there for the heck of it in a day or two. Anyone already been?