‘Stealth Bus’ no more!

by Jon Bez, Metro’s Logistics Manager

If you’ve waited at a bus stop, watching your favorite bus app to find out when your bus will arrive, you might have been frustrated by what the app sometimes showed you: A bus that suddenly appeared with no warning or a bus that seemed to jump from “way early” to “way late” or vice versa.Rider looks at their phone while a bus approaches at a transit center

The trouble with Metro’s current approach to building schedule data is that it isn’t really built to track buses when they’re moving in between service routes or while the operator is on a break. Buses could accidentally and falsely make it look as though a trip began very early or had never been completed.

To fix this problem, Metro has upgraded the underlying data system that drives the transit schedules in a project called “Stop Based Scheduling.” It goes live Saturday, Sept. 23, and it shifts the data that schedules are based on away from key intersections, using key bus stops instead, while also mapping out what buses will do when they’re not in service.

Because of this, customers may notice an improvement in the accuracy of “real time” schedule information if they ride on one of the earlier stops on a particular trip. This transition should be seamless for riders, improving the accuracy of the data Metro collects about its service, specifically around where our buses are and how they’re operating relative to their schedules.

For about a decade OneBusAway, Puget Sound Trip Planner, Google Maps, Apple Maps, and other apps have been getting their transit data from Metro through a data feed originally called the Google Transit Feed Specification, but now known as the General Transit Feed Specification or GTFS. By making this change in our data structure, we hope that riders will have more reliable information as the various apps use our enhanced data to predict when a bus will arrive at your stop.

This move also brings Metro more in line with the industry standards, helping to better meet the expectations of the software vendors who supply Metro with tools that support daily operations and performance tracking. Metro also will have more accurate timing and scheduling for when buses are not in service and better planning for operator restrooms.

We’ll be monitoring how things go and making corrections and additional enhancements along the way. Our goal is to put arrival information in the hands of customers that’s as accurate as possible, and we appreciate your patience as we worked to deliver this project!

(Attention Super Bus Nerds: read on.)

  • Operator run cards and the Route Book have changed to accommodate the fact that routes will now begin and end at passenger stops, rather than layover areas.  Operators will be adjusting to this new system over the first few days of the service change, but any confusion should be minimal.
  • Revenue and passenger mile statistics and hours for most routes will be even more accurate.
  • On-Time Performance arrival times will be more accurate, measured at bus stops instead of time points, which were mostly located at the centers of intersections.
  • Metro will be able to better calculate actual layover time for the purpose of better scheduling bus service.

(Editor’s Note: The Logistics Manager is a new pilot position at Metro that provides oversight and guidance to “logistical” workgroups in operations, service development, vehicle maintenance, and performance management. Like “Stop Based Scheduling” Metro “goes live” with this new position starting with the service change that starts this weekend.)

4 thoughts on “‘Stealth Bus’ no more!

  1. Why not just put a GPS on the bus and track continuously, in real time? (I know the reason and it is not a technical one; even Fed EX/UPS and other package delivery people will show you where your package/truck is every second, every where. It can be done.)

  2. My understanding is that the coaches are equipped with a GPS. Though considering it’s Metro that may mean the silly transponder system that supposedly sees coaches as they pass transpoder locations, provided everything works as it is supposed too. Of course it might tell you the D Line is in Rainier Beach.

  3. Thanks for the post. Excited to see the improvements tomorrow. Curious to know if your department is looking for software engineers? I’m a transit nurd and I’d love to work on projects like this. The KC jobs page is quite confusing and a honestly a huge turn off.

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