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.

3 thoughts on “Sightline talks transit tech

  1. Sue

    I recently got a smartphone and the first thing I did was download One Bus Away. But for me, it’s more useful in finding out a schedule than in practical useage for ontime arrivals. I can’t tell you how many mornings it tells me my regular bus is 30 min. late, and then suddenly it refreshes and says it’s coming in a minute (which would be on time, or slightly late). If I’d delayed arriving at the the bus stop due to the delay, I would’ve missed the bus.

    A week or two ago I was on First Hill and saw that the #2 was expected in 15 min. (and that I had just missed one 7 min. ago). So I sat in the shelter (where the driver wouldn’t be able to see me) because it was one of those *very* cold, windy days, and thought I’d play on my smartphone for 5 min. or so and then watch for the bus. Unfortunately, while engrossed in my phone, the #2 whizzed right past me, maybe a minute or two after getting there. I pulled out One Bus Away, and it now said that the bus that I had allegedly missed 7 minutes ago, was now 10 minutes late and was the one that had just passed me. It gave absolutely no evidence of being on its way 2 minutes earlier, and in fact told me I missed it. Had I known it was still on its way, I would’ve paid more attention and worked on being visible to the driver. Then the bus that was allegedly coming in 15 min. ended up coming 25 min. later, with no evidence that it was running late – in fact, it kept telling me I had missed that one too, until it suddenly arrived and then said it was late.

    I’d love it if it was accurate, but it’s proving to be anything but in my own experience.

    1. BusChick Post author

      Yes, I’ve had similar experiences. OBA uses Metro’s data, which, since they use an AVL bus tracking system (GPS coming soon!) isn’t always the most accurate. And, because I am very paranoid about missing my bus, I tend to get there a few minutes early no matter what the Internet says. Still, it’s useful to know if there’s a significant delay–or if the bus is slightly early.

      P.S. – I, too, use MyBus and OneBusAway to find out the schedule, since the schedules on Metro’s site almost never show up correctly on my phone.

      1. Nicholas Barnard

        Hrm, I’ve been kicking around an additional “metro mobile service” to allow you to select a route, then get a time table of two stops. (Your origination then destination.) It’d save a bunch of effort as to using the trip planner when you know what bus you want but don’t know what times it runs…

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