Tag Archives: One Bus Away

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

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?

Another cool bus tool

A couple of months back, Ron from Queen Anne (a fellow 3/4 rider and fan of Smooth Jazz) sent me a link to a website that I’ve just gotten around to checking out. (So far, I’ve only had time for a cursory evaluation, so all of my observations should be considered with that in mind.) The site’s called One Bus Away, and it’s basically MyBus with a few improvements:

• Arrival info for every bus stop, not just a few timepoints.
• A telephone number you can call to quickly get real-time arrival info when you’re waiting at your stop.
• An updated website that makes it easier to find arrival info when you’re waiting at home.
• Enhanced mobile tools for iPhones, text-messaging and other mobile devices.

The phone number is useful for those of us who don’t walk around with our faces in PDAs (a la Bus Nerd) and are too cheap to pay for Internet service on our phones. The system works like Metro’s automated schedule information line, except it provides–hallelujah!– real-time information. Like Metro’s schedule line, it helps you identify your stop number if you don’t know it, but the process is necessarily tedious. It works best for stops you use often enough to memorize the number.

One Bus Away’s other claim to fame is the fact that it provides information for every stop in Metro’s system. This is definitely cool. As for the other stuff:

I’m not sure how the SMS option differs from the one MyBus offers–MyBus’s query actually seems easier to type–and while the website may be easier to use than MyBus, I wouldn’t call it easy. (To be fair, the person who created this site is a grad student donating his time, and–as Bus Nerd can attest–Metro doesn’t expose its data in the most bus-tool-developer-friendly manner.)

Bottom line: One Bus Away is worth checking out. Thanks for the tip, Ron!