Tag Archives | Transit Tracker

Trackless in Portland: Where’s My Bus?

As an occasional transit rider, using the system isn’t completely intuitive for me. Any time I don’t know when the next bus is coming is a moment when I might get frustrated and give up.That’s why the new technologies TriMet has been implementing have made the system a lot easier to use, which makes me more likely to use (and enjoy) transit.

tracker

As an occasional transit rider, using the system isn’t completely intuitive for me. Any time I don’t know when the next bus is coming is a moment when I might get frustrated and give up and get back on my bike. That’s why the new technologies TriMet has been implementing have made the system a lot easier to use, which makes me more likely to use (and enjoy) transit.

Real-time displays at bus stops and on the web that let me know exactly when the next bus or train will arrive are fantastically useful tools that make the system work. (And, of course, there are those who are yet more cutting-edge, who want to unplug the system and be able to track real-time arrivals with wi-fi.)

Making the connection between between the schedule and the real live bus makes a real difference even when things are moving smoothly and basically according to schedule. But what happens to these systems when everything goes haywire?

Tonight was a good test of the system. Portland shuts down when it snows, and even the Commissioner of Transportation strongly recommends that citizens take transit instead of driving. It’s not impossible to ride a bike in the snow, but even in Portland biking drops a fair amount when the ground is white.

So, if transit is the best, if not only, way to get around today, how do you figure out if and how transit is going to work for you in the face of necessary delays and service changes?

I had the chance to test out how TriMet’s emergency information services were doing today. My sister was over for a visit, and while she was here it snowed. Biking back home was not an option, so we checked the TriMet web site to look for detours or delays. The closest bus line had delays, but there was no notice of anything out of the ordinary with the next route south.

We used Transit Tracker to find when the next bus should arrive, and it was coming in a half an hour, so I bundled her up against the cold, and sent her out in the cold world to walk a good long stretch to Hawthorne. She waited and waited at the stop, but even though multiple buses came in the other direction, no bus ever arrived. She had to walk home.

To my mind, this is a failure of the system. If we had known that our route was cancelled or severely delayed, she could have walked home from the get-go, stayed over, or taken a cab instead of waiting for an hours for a bus that never came. Even better would have been if we could have actually known when it made sense for her to leave the house and wait in the cold, because we could be sure a bus would arrive soon after. Luckily for my sister, she could walk a few miles home, but not everyone will be in that position.

I say all this with a great deal of sympathy and respect for TriMet’s engineers, operators, and administrators. I know they’re doing their best out there. But it seems to me that the real-time information and the reliability of the web site are more important in a crisis situation than ever. Take pity on those of us who will be waiting in the cold for that phantom bus this morning, and please just tell us if that bus will really arrive.

If not, I’m staying home.