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.

Bus Real Time board

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.

AT Metro Bus App 1

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.

AT Metro Bus App 2

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.

Update:

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.

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80 comments

  1. Does it show multiple busses, so we can know in sdvance which of the 820, 839, 858, 875, 879 or 895 busses are currently in the lead?

    It would be interesting to watch when city link, inner link bunch up.

  2. SO excited about this AT. Well done on upping the functionality so substantially. We may not have a full public transport system like the proper grown up cities yet, but at least we will now have a proper grown up PT app . Nice use of the bold type weighting on the stops page too, crisp, clear and classic.

  3. Can this be used to see an overview of a bus’ entire route? That is something that’s always been a struggle to find.

    It’s a shame that this is for buses only, it goes against what AT are trying to do with “AT Metro”.

    1. Buses only, I can understand as a starting point for the app, but surely very short sighted to call it ‘AT Metro Bus’ when AT has spent $100m+ on integrated ticketing.

      I get that this is focused on bus stops and arrival times for next bus, but in some-cases showing the buses you need to get from point A to point B but excluding ferries and trains would not be optimal. Imagine a tourist looking up the bus trip to get from city to Devonport; why would you exclude the ferry as an option?

      1. I think it is good that the app just focusses on doing one thing well. Trying to include multiple functions or complicated features would probably just make it perform badly at everything. It was called “Where’s my bus” in the trial and I think that is a much better name. Sums up exactly what it does. It is simply a much more useful replacement for the real-time board. “AT Metro Bus” doesn’t tell you anything useful about its function and in fact makes you think it does a lot more than it really does.

        During the trial I found it most useful for:
        Knowing whether your bus is late/on-time/early so that you know whether to hurry or delay your trip to the stop
        Predicting when it will arrive when waiting at the stop – ie you can read etc instead of watching carefully for your bus so as not to miss it because you weren’t waving your arms like a windmill

          1. Where’s My Bus is a longstanding iOS app that tracked buses in Boston, MA. I would guess AT would run into difficulties if they attempted to rip off other people’s IP.

        1. Is there an alert function that let’s you know when the bus is near, or do you need to keep interrupting your reading to check where your bus is?

          1. No alerts unfortunately but I found since it isn’t too hard to estimate arrival time pretty accurately you don’t really need to check very often.

  4. So yet again not for WIndows Phone, despite the fact it is clearly an HTML / jQuery driven app, which means that using Cordova would have it integrated very quickly. sigh
    So you’d want to add in (as well as route number), say a destination bus stop or 3 to auto select the services, or even say “within 400m of X address/point” Which the journey planner should give you.

    Hmm, I wonder if they will make the API available, I could probably take that plus the journey planner REST interface and make the WP app I want.

    1. I have no understanding of what you’re saying about HTML, jQuery, API etc but there being no Windows app is funny. The standard Auckland Council mobile phone is a Windows phone so council staff won’t even be able to use the new app. That won’t help them to use public transport more instead of their fleet cars and shuttles.

    2. As an owner of a Windows Phone, I am pretty used to not having apps (though I have the work iPhone & Android tablet as a fall back), but as you say, a bit disappointing that they don’t provide the API in a consumable form so that people can roll out their own to fill any gaps.

      Happy to help develop the WP8/W8.1 app if AT were to offer some documentation support and promise of stable API.

    3. At least they’re launching it for the most popular smartphone platform first, followed by iPhone. I suspect the reason most organisations get this back to front is that most senior executives, being rich, old, and out of touch, probably have iPhones. Therefore development gets pushed in that direction.

  5. 30 seconds to update its position is a bit long, should be more like 10 seconds. Also what happened to this concept app “My AT 2.0” which won hackakl? Its missing a lot of the features from what you have said above…: http://challengepost.com/software/my-at-2-0

    Things that are there according to your blog post:
    – Track your bus
    – Save your destination

    Things that seem to be missing:
    – Hop Card Balance & Top up
    – Simpler Journey Planning
    – Statistics of your travels incl current trip duration (eta to location)
    – Gamification

    But I am happy that something is finally happening, been quite some time, I have been using “Auckland Transit” app for Android which is functions a lot better than AT’s current up for bringing up PIDS on your phone.

    1. The public API which exposes this information is no longer updating since HackAKL with no explanation as to what is going and when it might actually work. Any apps/sites that have been written to use it are basically just sitting there waiting now which is pretty crap. It looks like AT have decided to give their own app a boost by preventing any competition from being able to launch until some time in the future. I can understand this behavior from a commercial company but surely from AT’s point of view the goal should be the best customer service possible whether that be through their own apps or those developed by others.

      1. It was my understanding that the winner of HackAKL (My AT 2.0) was going to be developed by AT as “their app”. If it had all the features that the developer intended then that would be perfect, it would contain all required information to PT users consolidated in one place, not spread out over several half-broken apps, Google Maps and the half-broken AT website tools.

        1. I’m not sure what the deal was there. I just know that the API that provides this data is supposed to be publicly available but AT seems to have abandoned it without explanation which is a bit shit because a number of people have used it to develop interesting things (not just at HackAKL) which can not be used. It would be great to just get confirmation that this is just a delay rather than a complete abandonment.

    2. I use the “TransitTimes” app for Android which I find has better features since it works for multiple cities and countries in Australia and New Zealand.

  6. I find the AT website madding every time I try to use it. Google maps doesn’t have as many features but if you want to know which route to take it’s so much easier to use. (The current app is better than the website, too.)

    The new app sounds like the San Francisco Muni app, which I thought was quite good when I was there. I suspect AT will be adding features and services to their app as time goes on. AT does get a lot of things right. Those should be acknowledged.

    1. Yeah the journey planner is a joke, when you click search it repeats the previous search and you have to click search again to get the results you wanted, also there’s no lines between stops which makes it visually annoying and it shows a bus stop icon for train stations… Also instead of showing planned rail bus replacements it shows ONLY regular bus services when rail bus replacements are running which is a serious problem. But these are not the only issues with it…

    2. Just as an FYI, the google maps stuff works due to the fact that the AT website has a zip file that google downloads containing a list of all the stops and all the routes.
      I’ve got the link to it somewhere at home.

  7. Lack of a journey planner is, I think, a good thing – Google do that well, so leave that part of the job to Google and focus on keeping them up-to-date with data, rather than try to duplicate the effort.

  8. I haven’t tried it yet so can’t comment. But a running table showing metres of dedicated lane for bus vs car and also protected or off-road cycle would be interesting on motorways and arterials. As to how we are really tracking. And mode share per arterial or motorway and degree of saturation. Real location time is great but factual status per main road would be great also in terms of Road Network performance.

    1. Yeah this would be extremely helpful, the PIDS on the train network can sometimes be just as inaccurate as the PIDS on the bus network. Real time GPS based tracking on trains accessible to PT Users would be a big plus.

    2. The demo data provided by the realtime API did have information for trains but it only updated the position at each station. This wasn’t true data though so I’m not sure if this is indicative of what the real data will look like or not.

  9. > 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.

    Good call on AT’s part. Build the most useful thing and release it first, move on to the next thing. I’m looking forward to trying out the app. I always have an issue heading out of the city trying to time my train to bus connection. The RT board info didn’t give you enough info to judge whether you’d make it or not, so intrigued to see how seeing the bus location will change that.

  10. Yay, been waiting for something like this.
    Not sure why they didn’t make this an option of the current app, why have more than one PT app?
    Does it show the estimated time as well as the number of stops? If not, why not?

        1. I beleive it would, ive many times checked the pids of my destination whilst on a service for an ETA. Would be great if you can see that without mucking around.

  11. I was one of the trial testing the app late last year – it worked great…

    Well except in typical AT part one of the routes I used daily wasn’t loaded or wouldn’t, thus rendering it useless for half of my daily journeys… I also found the stops til it arrives at yours to be frustrating, I don’t go past my stop so have no inkling on how long 3 stops from mine might actually take, so I’d use the old app to tell me the expected time of arrival

    1. A glance at a (paper) timetable will show you the estimated time difference from your stop to N stops out to do a rough estimate how much time you need.

      For instance I know that my preferred stop is 1 stop from Newmarket but as there is a set of traffic lights between the Newmarket stop and my one, that it could take from 90 seconds to 4 minutes, if it misses the lights and has to wait the full cycle, so knowing if the bus is before or after the lights is critical info to me.

      Can’t wait to use it though…

      1. During the trial I found after a few days use of the app that I got pretty good at estimating when the bus would arrive based on where it was on the app. Much, much better than the real time board’s estimates.

  12. has anyone tried the “HERE Transit” app for Windows Phone? (i think it may only be available on the Lumia Handsets) This has to be the most useful app that i have used and it combines all of the buses, trains and ferries into one route from wherever you are to wherever you want to go. It shows all of the timings for the rest of the day and picks and chooses the most relevant route/service to suit the various timetables at a given time. It also shows intervals for walking between the modes and can overlay it on a map. It hasn’t let me down yet and definitely the best PT app.

      1. From what I understand, some Here Transit cities are provided with RT data from transport agencies. If AT allowed that for HT, the lack of a WP app would be forgiven from me but it doesn’t help HTC owners etc.

    1. Nothing, so many years have flown past without even a mention, however westpac apparently are releasing mWallet this year but im not sure if it will include AT HOP. Semble which also is releasing this year; however may do, check that out.

  13. Still no release? I’m guessing its being released on AT’s typical random time during business hours schedule. Will check google play again at 10.

    1. Still nothing as of 10AM? What are AT doing? I thought they would have it ready to release and just upload it first thing in the morning, but no… of cause not.

  14. See update
    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.

    1. Why oh why with the internal, special user only releases. That’s what beta is for and that’s already been and gone, and that was a CLOSED beta, so now there is a closed final release as well, how annoying, haven’t we been waiting long enough for a proper application from AT. “AT Public Transport” was last updated on November 15, 2012 and is riddled with bugs. They could at least give the public the option to opt-in on beta’s, yet alone trial releases of the final software.

    2. What use would AT staff have with a bus app, unless it also tells you where your shuttle is.

      Do you know if AT plan to expose the API, so that someone else can make a non buggy version or a windows phone version.

      1. Yeah its not like they would be able to stress test it anyway, I doubt they ever use far-out routes like me such as 50, 476, 479 and 060 otherwise these routes would of surely been beaten in to shape now in terms of decent operating hours and frequencies.

          1. Surely open beta testing is the correct solution for testing a PUBLIC transport application, just ensure users are made aware its in beta when installing or launching the app and have a report button at hand on each area of the application to give feedback to the developers, do that for a few weeks and once feedback/bug reports stop flowing, make it a final release, make sure its reviewed every 1-3 months for changes to the Mobile OS in questions ecosystem/AT resources and bam everyone’s happy and you have an app that isn’t falling apart like there current one.

            Obviously whoever manages development of these applications doesn’t have a clue imho.

  15. Am I the only user in NZ with a Windows Phone ? Sure feels like it when it comes to local apps….. Id pay a few $ for this app if it works and was on WP.

    1. No. I see lots of Lumias being used by people on buses. I use WP as well. Its annoying that AT won’t look at it but hey, I’m pretty used to AT ignoring customers by now.

      1. I think the argument that there is not enough people using Windows Phone to justify developing for it is a cop out, particularly as these relatively simple apps can be converted easily. I think it seems to be more fashionable to only develop for the apple and google

  16. Appreciating all the feedback. As Matt says this is a soft launch amongst AT staff, friends and families and selected key stakeholders such as yourselves, with the public launch later in February. It is available in the Google play app stores for Android and will be available in the iTunes store for iPhone later. Would also appreciate feedback on the app name- how easy was it to find etc. Thank you

    1. Little bit confused are you saying it is available in Google play? When looking under Auckland Transports profile the only developed application shown is “AT Public Transport” and when searching “AT Metro Bus” there is a large amount of results but going through them it is not there. Perhaps you can provide us with an http link to a copy of the APK to test or just the URL of the play store listing if it is indeed available there.

      Edit: Nevermind, this was provided above by Terri

    2. Some issues so far, was unable to track a 304 service in progress, possibly faulty equipment or wrong config done by driver. Other issue is unable to delete any stops that I have added.

      Never-mind, just noticed you can swipe to reveal the delete button, this isn’t very clear though, maybe have long-press bring up this swipe menu as well just for ease of use.

    3. Hi Sharon. I’ve been trying to use the app for a while, quite frustrating. Great idea but feels like poor software and still suffering from the backend data problems that plagued ATs other realtime and journey planner offerings. Any way to give constructive feedback other than App Store ratings or mouthing off on forums like this?

  17. A problem I think I just uncovered… a bus won’t show up in the list if it’s past the scheduled time. AKA if the bus is late, you won’t be able to track it.

    Another thing, ‘1 stop away’ is extremely misleading if you are at Burns Ave heading northbound (as 1 stop could be the other side of the bridge), or if there are expresses involved (1 stop on the express could take 30min, but 1 stop on all stops service may take 2min).

    I still think that distances should be factored in somehow, either shown explicitly or in sorting the bus trips in the stop list.

    1. Another issue is buses scheduled after 00:00 show “Invalid date”. Is there an e-mail address we can send bug reports to? :p

      1. The Google Transit data feeds just continue the 24 hour clock, ie. a bus departing at 1:05am would be 2505hrs.

        Maybe the app should be set up to recognise this? There really does need to be an easy way to submit bug reports.

    2. Busses disappearing when they are late appears to occur when they leave the first stop late. They do seem to usually reappear when they eventually leave the first stop. I guess this “feature” is needed to clear the lists of busses that have faulty location equipment or have been set up wrong by drivers (happens occasionally i.e. busses that don’t appear on the real time data). But it should perhaps be reconfigured so that they only disappear after say 5 minutes rather than instantly?

  18. Showing where your bus currently is sounds like a great idea and something that I would like to see added to the RTTI in Christchurch. Otherwise you have to key in a lot of bus stop numbers to get times off all of them. If I am on a bus and I am making a split second decision about where I can transfer to a bus that is just behind me then being able to track where that bus is instantaneously is a big improvement.

    1. Seems a bit buggy so far, on an iPhone it freezes up when zooming in to look at a specific bus stop. Same problem obserged on the phones of 5 other colleagues. Pretty poor testing from AT.

        1. On android latest update, feedback:

          – Add a stop map is slow and can sometimes crash the app especially when zoomed out, seems the more zoomed out the worse it is, weirdly this performance issue does not occur on the map when tracking the bus, just the add a stop
          – Can not reach the Port Waikato bus stop as it is out of the allowed bounds of the map when zoomed in enough to view stops, also when tracking the 50 bus it goes off the map
          – Buses sometimes update there location very slowly, sometimes doesn’t update at all, had a Inner link bus show itself all the way down the northern end of Ponsonby for several minutes and still showed there when I jumped on at K Road, I continued to track it and it didn’t update until it reached Auckland Hospital. This may be a problem with onboard equipment but really needs to be rectified. Would be helpful if we had a report function on the app, maybe we can report the bus number so the developers can investigate poor equipment.
          – The app cannot be found on play store search (not sure if intentional or not, as still in testing?)
          – Would help if newest-added stops appeared at the top instead of the bottom and maybe have an option to just plain bring up a stop instead of having to save each stop as some people just use stops as a one off or occasional use, e.g. visit certain friend/family
          – Would also be good to be able to add by stop number instead of map, not everyone has location turned on and/or knows how to navigate a map of Auckland
          – Would help if it had the ETA provided by PIDS/RTB included as it is a pain having to jump between apps
          – Would help if trains could be tracked or at least able to bring up PIDS/RTB information on them without having to jump between apps
          – Would be good to include an updated Journey Planner, *CURRENT* Balance check and top-up via NFC and other functions as the “AT Public Transport” app is outdated and does not work, has not been updated in over a year

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