Sunday, March 27, 2011

Metro + Mobile Technology = WIN

Nextime iPhone app
I'm not a huge fan of taking the bus -- it's slower and bumpier than trains, and sometimes the stops are maddeningly close to each other. Mobile technology may not be able to address those issues, but I just discovered an iPhone app that helps with one of buses' biggest drawbacks: their unreliable schedules.

I've learned to distrust the printed timetables and Google Transit's directions, which are based on those schedules when taking the bus. All too often, the bus will arrive 10 minutes late, which is especially frustrating when you compare buses' performance with that of Metro Rail trains, which (based on my experience) consistently arrive on-time.

NextBus web app from Metro's official vendor, NexTrip
Earlier this month, Metro announced its NexTrip service, which uses realtime data from GPS units onboard buses to predict when the buses will arrive at a stop. Zach Behrens of KCET recently listed NexTrip as one of the reasons Angelenos should start taking the bus more often. ($5/gallon gas is another.)

Now, there's an iPhone app that combines Nextrip's functionality with a slick presentation and intuitive UI.

Nextime ($2.99), from Massachusetts-based Nextransit, apparently consumes the same GPS data as NexTrip but makes Metro's official realtime bus arrival web-app see above) looks absolutely clunky by comparison.

Open Nextime and allow it to access your current location, and the app will list all the Metro Bus lines soon serving your area along with each bus' expected time until arrival. It will even tell you if you need to walk briskly -- or run -- to catch the bus. There are other useful features, including notifications that alert you when it's time to leave for the bus, and maps of each stop.

Nextime will notify you when it's time to leave for the bus stop.
Since the GPS data is publicly-available through Metro's Realtime API, I would love to see Google incorporate it into their transit directions for both Google Maps and the native iPhone Maps app. And I'm sure the software developers participating in Metro's Developer Challenge can take inspiration from Nextime when creating their mash-up apps.

With more data available from Metro and presented in a useful way for the end-user, it's easier than ever to leave your car at home and take public transit around L.A.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely LOVE Nextbus! Too bad the nicer looking version is only on iPhone since I'm on Android. But Nextbus is more than sufficient for my needs. I completely agree that buses are definitely not as comfortable as rail, nor is it as reliable as it gets stuck right along in traffic. However, one of my biggest gripes was the unpredictability of buses arriving. The most frustrating thing ever is waiting at a bus stop not knowing when the next bus is going to come. This takes the guessing out of it and makes riding buses actually doable. Best "invention" for 2011 I think!