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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Metro Transit’s GoTime goes online

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HALIFAX – Last week, Metro Transit launched an online GoTime schedule and departure feature for every one of its 2200+ bus stops, bus and ferry terminals.  Encouraging as this is that Metro Transit is cluing into the fact that in this age of iPhone carrying, Blackberry BBMers, putting useful information online is the way to go, I can’t help but wonder whether this new GoTime system won’t suffer the same problems as the phone schedule system.

A far bigger, more important step up would be to switch from simply conveying static schedules and moving up to a system that actually told you when the bus was going to come. This would mean having checkpoints or sensors that would actually chart the position of the buses themselves so that information like heavy traffic, bus breakdowns and other incidents that delay the buses would somehow be conveyed to those people waiting.

I’m a real sucker for the GoTime phone call service. I love calling my local stop and route number in as I leave my house (I have the number saved into my phone) just to check and see if I technically have the time to linger a moment longer before heading out. But too many times have I called and heard that I have ten minutes only to find out my bus showed up two minutes later and left without me to trust the seemingly authoritative words of the always cheerful automated phone woman.

Part of my fascination with the GoTime system comes from having lived in Edinburgh, Scotland for almost a year, a city that’s physically almost the same size as urban Halifax. They too have a bus-only city transit system, but have for years had automated signs at most bus stops that display up to a dozen ‘real-time’ arrival schedules for the next buses. Their website similarly caters to mobile users, but unlike Metro Transit’s GoTime, Bus-Tracker Edinburgh provides the actual progress of any bus and the time it will take before it arrives at the station you will be waiting at.

It’s hard to describe the impact the Edinburgh system makes on the quality of life of transit users. I wouldn’t describe myself as an anxious kind of guy, but I’m also not the type who takes the experience of missing a bus running out of sync with its schedule lightly. Knowing when your bus is going to arrive often means you can take that extra moment at home before leaving for the day, grabbing a coffee for the wait at a local café/convenience store or running a quick errand on your way without the fear of getting to the cash register only to see your bus take off outside. These little touches have a big impact on people’s moods — unless I’m alone here — as well as their general experience of riding transit.

Something to think about when Metro transit makes these upgrades or perhaps even when it eventually gets its next big bit of infrastructure funding.

photo by Jake Schabas



  1. Since we tend to say, “Have you phoned the bus?” I think GoTime should have a “Phone the bus” option where you can ring the bus-driver of the next bus to arrive at your stop, and ask “Hey there, I perceive that you are behind schedule. I do hope everything is okay. When do you think you’ll be getting to North and Oxford? How has your day been so far?” Who needs GPS when you’ve got community!

  2. Would love this. Big fan of it when I was in Ottawa. Especially the intuitive trip planner and everything.

  3. i missed my bus this morning as i walked to the stop. it was 2-3 minutes early when it flew by.

    a couple years ago when a similar thing happened I called the city # to complain, and the person on the other end basically said that there’s a 10 minute window around the scheduled stop time (5 before and 5 after), so I should always show up 5 minutes early to be safe. In February? Yeah, right.

    I would LOVE a real time system. It can be done with GPS. I’ve seen a pilot project done by King’s Transit in NS that utilized GPS and it worked quite well.

  4. The link up top does seem like any sorry of improvement to the schedule on the HRM homepage. In fact it looks much less engaging. The thing is still running on scheduled time instead of real time.

    Why won’t metro transit just bite the bullet and use hbus?!

  5. Unless I’m mistaken, Jake, the website you linked to was not created by Metro Transit. From the “About” page:

    “We are not affiliated in any way with Halifax Metro Transit, nor with Google Maps.

    “Maps and data are based on publicly available maps, and schedules available from Metro Transit. Bus stops and routes came from lots of journeys along Metro Transit routes.”


    Now this makes TWO unofficial trip planning websites for Metro Transit, and still no official one. Sad, but nice to see community members making the effort.

  6. Ned, you’re right. Didn’t realize until I followed your ‘about’ link. Thanks for the heads up. I wonder what Halifax Metro Transit’s relationship to Everett is like? Whether they help him out with these amazing initiatives or if he does it all on his own?