Friday, November 19, 2010

Bus Plus Survey: Seattle and Real-Time Schedules

At the beginning of November, Community Transit received more than 1,000 responses to our survey about bus route information. This information will be used to help improve our rider materials and the way we communicate with our customers. Many people added additional questions or comments. I responded to some in an earlier post.

Bus stop posters in Seattle: One person asked why we took the schedule information off the bus stop at Terrace & 5th. King County Metro Transit prints and posts our information at stops in King County, and we weren’t aware that several of the Community Transit route schedules no longer appear at that stop. So, thanks for mentioning that (we’re working with Metro to get it fixed). If you ever notice a missing schedule poster or other problem at a bus stop, please notify our Customer Information staff and provide the location and stop ID number (on the pole and schedule).

Another person asked why some of the Seattle stop posters list times from stops several blocks earlier in the trip. Again, we send Metro our schedule information and they post it. Community Transit has a practice of posting the estimated arrival times at stops in between our designated timepoints. But Metro’s practice is to list only the official timepoints on stop posters - the same select stops listed in Bus Plus books and on bus driver schedule instructions. So that’s what you get in downtown Seattle.

You can use the “Find Next Bus” feature of our Trip Planner to find the next four estimated arrival times for any stop in King, Pierce or Snohomish counties. Just be aware that the times are estimates, and buses may arrive early.

Or late. Real-time bus information was the most requested feature in all the survey comments. As someone who experienced an afternoon commute home from Seattle last week (one of the days when we used our electronic alerts to warn “I-5 Accident Causing Delays”), I personally understand the demand for knowing when your bus is actually going to show up. The short answer is “We’re working on it.”

Planning and IT staff just returned from a week-long test of our real-time technology, and many issues remain to be resolved in the coming year.

When we’re done, we will feed real-time data to the public via the Web, mobile devices and by telephone (when you call in a stop number). We will have real-time signs at Ash Way Park & Ride, Lynnwood Transit Center, Mountlake Terrace Transit Center and at every Swift Station. Another part of the project is electronic signs on board every bus that will list the next stop as the bus approaches, and audio call-outs of stop names and important landmarks.

In the meantime, the information we have to convey to customers can be limited. Riders often know a bus is late before we do, and our Customer Information and Communications staff often won’t know precisely why or when it will arrive. We are committed to communicating with riders when there are system-wide delays or major reroutes. We also put in special effort when winter weather impacts our service – and I don’t mean rain!


  1. Kristin,

    This sounds like PR management speak. We have a blog here. How about being a little more direct. We can handle it. Buses have radios. Drivers can let the CIC team know when they are -10 or worse. Why is that so hard?

    It would also be nice to let people know about One Bus Away, and it would great if CT would provide information to OBA when buses are late, like today, when an 855 didn't show in the p.m. in the rain. Surely drivers can call in their situation if they are not even starting a route.

    And frankly, I am not looking forward to automated call outs of landmarks and the like. How tiring that will be after the first 20 times. Put in on a wifi feed or a transportation radio frequency and let folks get those announcements in their earbuds if they want or need them.

    As you said in a previous post in response to the thought that folks are packed in from LTC, which we are, and it is not fun, I would much rather have *more* buses and *postpone* the darned talking electronics, and have us all help first-time riders with their stop needs. That kind of sharing we all do happily. Give us more drivers and more buses and defer the fancy talking bus systems.

    Ask us--which would we poor CT riders want more right now? Talking buses announcing landmarks and every stop or more buses so we can sit down for the commute and get home from UW after 6:30pm? Hmmm--do you dare?

  2. Why don't you just get NextBus ( Seems like a no-brainer especially now that they do every other major city transit system!

  3. Let me be very direct: we do not have GPS (Global Positioning Systems) on our buses and do not have real time information. OneBusAway has our bus schedule data (see September blog post), but we have nothing more to give them or to NextBus re: actual arrivel times.
    We continue to work on a project to get GPS, but as King County's early experience with real time info proved (several years ago they turned it on, then off for awhile), it's not that easy. Your entire system of bus stop locations and estimated arrival times needs to be spot on or the real-time info is not.
    Bus drivers do call in when they are late - to Disptach, which then works to send out replacement buses, coordinate alternate pickups or reroutes, etc. Dispatch also sends an email to our Customer Information and Communications staff. In that order.
    Also note that our bus communications rely on a radio system, and there are some dead spots - historically one of those is downtown Seattle. So notice of late buses is not always immediate.
    Finally, we would need to make a large commitment of human resources to make available to the public this inconsistently available and imperfect information.
    I am glad the public has high expectations of the information we provide about our service. I don't want to disappoint riders more than we already do on occasion by trying to do something that we can't.

  4. why are you running saturday local schedule on dec. 24, most of us work that day, and it is a busy day for us. thanks for screwing us again.