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Where's My Bus?

There's nothing worse than waiting and waiting for a bus. A late bus can make you late to school, work, daycare pickup, or other time-sensitive trips. And it can cause things like job loss or daycare penalties that many riders can't afford.

Actually, there is something that's worse: Waiting and waiting for a bus AND NOT KNOWING when it will come. That is the situation that many transit riders around the country face when bus runs get canceled due to bus operator shortages or buses awaiting repair. A lack of information can be stressful and leave riders in limbo, not knowing whether to stay and wait longer or make alternate arrangements to get where they need to go, and not knowing whether to call ahead to let people know they will be late.

woman looking at smartphone

Fortunately, there are solutions available - systems that use technology to monitor bus locations and predict when they will get to their next stop. Bus locations and estimated times of arrival (ETA's) at every stop can be streamed over the internet using General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) standards and displayed on transit apps and websites, third party apps and websites, and digital signs at bus stops. And that same information can be streamed to call centers to help staff answer customer inquiries about late buses.

Tip: Bear in mind that some riders may not have access to smartphones or data plans and may not have digital displays at their bus stops. Be sure to publish your customer service phone number so that those people have a way to find out when the next bus is coming. Also, encourage riders to share delay information with other riders waiting at the bus stop who may not have access to the information.

One challenge transit agencies face is data quality. As they say: "garbage in, garbage out." If GTFS feeds are inaccurate, then transit riders will see incorrect information, which only makes matters worse. It may tell riders that the bus will arrive in 3 minutes, for example, when in fact the next bus is 30 minutes away. This can sometimes occur when transit agencies stream scheduled data that includes bus runs that are cancelled. Workflows need to be modified to require dispatch staff to flag cancelled runs immediately so that cancellations can be accounted for in the GTFS feeds. Otherwise, riders will think buses are coming soon, when in fact they have been cancelled.

woman in wheelchair waiting at bus stop

To sustain an accurate GTFS feed that gives customers accurate information, transit agencies need to continuously monitor the health of the hardware, software, and data communications the system relies on. Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) should be established and monitored for potential points of failure, and surveys should ask customers about the availability and accuracy of real time information to make sure the systems are all working together as intended to deliver accurate information.

Tip: There are many businesses that help transit agencies deploy technical solutions that improve real time information. Also, some states offer technical support. For example, in California the Caltrans’ Integrated Travel Project (Cal-ITP) offers no-cost technical support to California transit agencies.

Among Customer Experience (CX) professionals, we look for moments when customers are anxious or uncertain. That is certainly the case when customers don't know when the bus will come, but fortunately that issue is fixable with the right attention and effort.


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