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Transit Information

New technology will provide a better idea of when next bus will arrive

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, September 3, 2020 11:19:00 AM

Traffic lights, weather and other variables have always made predicting when buses will arrive at their next stop a complicated endeavor. But new technology now promises to give customers a much better idea of when the next bus will appear.

Beginning this week, real-time departure information provided through NexTrip will be based not just on where a bus is located but on how long it has taken recent buses to travel the same stretch of roadway.

That historical information helps account for things like traffic and snow, which can impact how quickly buses are traveling.

“It’s never going to be 100 percent perfect, but this is a big improvement and a big step forward,” said Laura Matson, Metro Transit’s program manager for real-time customer information.

The new prediction software will feed all the NexTrip tools customers use, including the website and digital signs.

To replace a decade-old, error-prone prediction system, Metro Transit worked with multiple vendors to see which could generate the most accurate predictions over a two-month period.

Performance was measured by looking at how closely predictions matched actual departure times. Results from the selected vendor, Cambridge Systematics, were found to be noticeably more accurate than those provided by the system it replaces.  

In addition to more accurate predictions, stop closures and trip cancellations will be reflected in NexTrip for the first time. The real-time information is being published in a standard format that can be used by third-party apps. Real-time data are being used by Transit app and will be added to Google Maps and Apple Maps soon.

Other real-time information advances that have been or will be made include:

  • Customers who seek real-time departure information through text message can once again use a short code advertised on all bus stop signs. The short code was temporarily out of service. To receive predicted departure times, text “mt” followed by the stop number to 27299.
  • Real-time sign technicians were recently hired to address a backlog of maintenance and repair needs, and additional support staff will soon be added, so Metro Transit can innovate and be more proactive about maintenance needs.
  • Metro Transit continues to evaluate the possibility of providing information about how crowded a bus or train is likely to be.