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