I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had issues with or seen others complaining about Auckland Transport’s real time system for buses and trains. The most frequent issues include:
- Buses saying they’re due then never showing up and disappearing from the display
- Buses saying they’re only a few minutes away but being considerably more e.g. due in 2 minutes but turns up 15 minutes later.
These issues are incredibly frustrating when they happen, often leaving passengers frustrated and angry. They’re an example of where having more information can lead to a worse experience yet there’s often a quite logical explanation – not that you care when your bus is late. The key problem with it all though is that the system is having to make a prediction and with traffic there’s always a lot that can occur that will impact on that e.g. some localised congestion.
I also have an issue with how the current real time information is displayed. The boards at the stops themselves only show three services at a time and often you can wait for what seems like an eternity while it scrolls through a few hours worth of buses, most of which aren’t going where you want to go. The web version and phone app aren’t much better.
Tomorrow Auckland Transport launch a new phone app that represents a paradigm shift in how AT delivers real time information. Instead of trying to predict when your bus will turn up it simply tells and shows you where you bus is. That shifts the prediction part to the user which might sound like a step backwards but the in reality is a huge step forward in usability. I was able to experience this for myself for a few months late last year as AT included me in their trial of the app. Prior to this trial I had never found a PT app that I liked and so generally never used one however with this app I quickly found it so useful I was using it daily.
When it launches the app will be known as ‘AT Metro Bus’ and launches first on Android tomorrow followed by iOS by the end of the month (sorry Windows Phone users, AT say they have no intention of a Windows Phone app). Here are the key feature AT say about the app:
- Save multiple bus stops and bus routes to track
- See in real-time where your bus is on your favourite routes
- Track your bus progress from the ten preceding stops
- See when a bus has arrived or already gone
Below are some screen shots from the trial I was involved in showing how the app works.
Upon launching the app you can choose a pre-saved bus stop you regularly use or add a new one.
One of the great things about the app is when you save a bus stop you can select only the services (route numbers) that use it that you want to see. As an example the bus stop in Takapuna for buses heading to the city is also used by buses that are going to Devonport and Akoranga but I have no interest in them.
The one downside to this that you need to know which services to use i.e. in my Takapuna example the services that go to the city are the 820, 839, 858, 875, 879 or 895 (there are a few other one off routes too depending on the time of the day or week). If you didn’t know you have all of those options then you might think the services on offer are worse than they are. The lack of a journey planner means the app is primarily going to be for people doing a regular commute rather than one that will help learn what PT options they have.
Once you’ve saved your favourite stop/s it’s simply a matter of selecting the one you want. When you do you’ll get a list of services that are due however with one key difference. That difference is that instead of saying how many minutes the bus is away, it says how many stops away it is (up to 9). Unfortunately I don’t have a screenshot of this and the app no longer works. The app also shows the previously departed bus which is useful to know that it has actually been.
Selecting the bus you want to track gives you the apps key feature, the location of the bus on the map in real time along with showing the route it takes. Leaving the app open and the location of the bus will update roughly every 30 seconds.
It might not sound like a it would make that much difference over the system telling you how many minutes away the bus was but I personally found it far more useful and intuitive. As I’ve mentioned before I regularly walk from Takapuna to the Akoranga busway station for more exercise. The app meant that while I was on my way I could see very easily whether it was worthwhile walking faster to get a quicker bus and more than once it resulted in me getting home quicker (as the earlier bus meant I connected to an earlier train).
Overall I think the app is fantastic and as a testament to its usefulness I have certainly missed being able to use it since the trial ended (app works but there’s no data for it). It’s a bit of a one trick pony but it does its trick very well. This doesn’t mean it’s perfect though, the major criticisms I have of the app are the lack of a journey planner function, the lack of any HOP integration and that it is for buses only as it would be great to have train information too.
Well done to AT for finally creating a useful app.
So it seems AT weren’t clear on their comms and the app has only had an internal soft launch. It won’t go live to the general public till February.