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Road test: Real-time bus info

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Real-time data will change the way you catch buses. It’s already changed my experience – for the better.

To play, you’ll need to download a private app. The State Government’s decided not to offer one, in the belief that private developers will produce something that’s more market-oriented. I went with TransitTimes+, $2.99 on the app store (iOS and Android), and dived in.

To use it, you’ll need to tell the app the stops you use most frequently. I went with my departure stops in the city and the suburbs. Save the stops as “favourites”, and then tap on them and that data starts loading.

Here’s where things get cool. You’ll get a chronological list of every bus departing from your stop. Each service comes with a countdown timer – accurate to the minute. After a few seconds, those countdowns will display a little real-time icon and update to the real-time feed.

The first question for this type of thing is accuracy. How believable is the service? In my experience, it’s unerringly accurate. I can watch the time tick down and every time the bus arrives just as it says it will. It’s that good.

But, really, we already have quite good bus timetable technology – Google maps, for example, will tell you when your next bus is due, although obviously not with real-time precision. The real difference that this technology makes is to other parts of your life.

A few examples. I am now so confident about when my bus is coming that I can run additional errands. I left my bus stop and got a coffee the other day – watching the ticker the whole time, ready to bail from the coffee line and run for the stop if it got too hairy. Without real time, I wouldn’t have taken the risk.

As a catcher of the 500-line, my biggest problem is overcrowding. I like sitting down on the bus to read (small mercies, I know). Catching the 500 home, I can now know that there will be a bus in the next five minutes if I skip a full one that’s just pulled up. But will the next one have seats available? Real-time doesn’t tell us that, yet (capacity data is rumoured to be in the works), but I’ve found I can work it out. A bus that is running 10 minutes late is always going to be extra full, and the service that’s running just after it is always going to be next-to-empty. I can now know the exact location and distance between those two buses, and make an optimal decision.

That’s really what this tech is about. It doesn’t change how on-time your bus is. But it lets you make better decisions about catching it.

 

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