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Taking (some of) the chaos out of public transit

Nextbus Screen ShotNextBus provides real-time, per-stop predictions for several public transit systems across the U.S. (view all); we San Franciscans who rely on MUNI are fortunate enough to get accurate arrival times for any stop on the light rail line (F, J, K, L, M, N or S) as well as all stops along the mighty, ambling, urine-soaked 22-Fillmore line (don’t laugh: it stops a couple of blocks from Bottom of the Hill).

Unlike the speculative “schedules” that MUNI publishes, NextBus “uses satellite technology and advanced computer modeling to track vehicles on their routes.” So no guessing, standing in the rain, or watching as the last streetcar of the night pulls out of the station without you in it. As someone who lives 1/2 a block from a stop, I can tell you this actually, really works. And, inexplicably, hardly anyone I know seems to know about and use it.

Tip 1: Get it on your mobile

The truly great hack is using NextBus on your mobile phone or PDA. I highly recommend bookmarking your favorite stops on your phone; nothing’s better than sitting in your favorite bar and confidently stalking the last train of the night with the comfort of a chilled beverage.

Tip 2: Get it on your desktop

The best real-world, day-to-day use is mostly for the folks who live or work within quick walking distance of a NextBus-covered line. Over time, you can watch the prediction for your stop (or just stare the cool Java map of the whole system) and suss out how long it takes you to get from your originating point to the stop. Within a week or so, you’ll be a total jedi, arriving for your streetcar right as it pulls into your intersection.

Spotty as MUNI can be sometimes, NextBus makes it start to seem like a fairly sane way to get around. So, make some bookmarks, test your walk time, and unlock the hidden order in your local transit system.

Jamison's picture

I never noticed the bookmark...

I never noticed the bookmark link, it's still shorter to just walk to one of the stations (I'm located midway between Chruch, Castro and Duboce Park stations, Doboce Park being without a nextbus sign). You still see my point though about that map at the ticket counter: it's inside the station, underground by which time you've already made a choice (MUNI Metro or BART vs the F-Line, a Bus or Cable Car), and depending on conditions perhaps wrongly, about which system to choose.

I know that over the next few years there is a drive to create longer islands and consolidate all surface transit along market to the center lanes, at which point a handful of well-designed and well-located nextbus signs could convey very well what's going where when, but based on MUNI's track record, and some of the decisions about the Central Subway, I'm very worried about them getting it right.

I think SF needs to make some heavy investment in the usability of transit, traffic and tourist information signs throughout the city, cause we haven't even touched on BART or Caltrain yet...




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