When’s the NextBus? Ask Your Web Browser. Don’t Ask Muni.

Someone, please get Nate Ford on the phone (or email, or whatever). We have a some SF Muni Follies that need to be fixed, stat.
One of the things that makes certain lines, like our beloved N-Judah, easier and more convenient to use is of course the digital NextBus readouts, installed at key bus shelters up and down the line that tell you exactly when the next train or bus is scheduled to arrive.
It’s great in general, but when it is pouring rain it’s critical in helping you decide whether to ride out the storm a few minutes or go elsewhere and come back. Everyone likes it. So why the hell isn’t it working anymore?

No, let me put that another way. The little light boards read just fine. They just don’t tell you when the bus or train is actually coming. So what do they tell you instead?
They tell you about the fact that the trains don’t run in the tunnel after 7. They even tell you this on the 22, at 4 in the afternoon (no the 22 does not ride the rails and the tunnel down town). They give you the website of the SF MTA (because of course we all have our computer, monitor, internet connection and keyboard with us at all times for just such a situation), and they give you some other irrelevant info. They just never tell you any useful info about the bus or train you’re waiting for. WTF???
I wish I had my camera at the 22 stop at Duboce and Fillmore. Someone put the above critique in a more concise form, scrawling “F*CK MUNI” on the readout. Whoever you are, thanks for saying what was on everyone’s mind.
Mr. $300,000 Plus Benefits, will you tell me why it is you get paid $300,000 a year + great benefits (and oh yeah , if you’re fired we keep paying for your a couple of years afterwards!), but something that was working just fine now doesn’t?
More accurately, why is the digital network of readout signs being used as a half-assed news service instead of what it was designed for?
You’re a smart guy. Help us out here.
This is my first posting on the new system – the layout and rollout of the site is a ways away though. Until it’s fully completed, you can read my archives at my old hosting service. Thanks!

This entry was posted in MUNI/SFMTA, N Judah News, News & Politics, Site News. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to When’s the NextBus? Ask Your Web Browser. Don’t Ask Muni.

  1. Jamison says:

    It’s completely appropriate for Muni to use the Next Bus signs to let us know when Metro shuts down. There will be tourists and infrequent riders who only discover it this way, probably when they walk up to a platform or shelter at four in the afternoon to head somewhere they won’t be coming back from until after 10:00pm. The 22 connects with the metro lines, so the same applies here too.
    What is wrong is sending you off to a web site to look for information, they should make the information available at the shelter with the system map.
    What’s also very, very wrong is telling people the Metro system shuts down at 10:00pm, when some lines are shutting down closer to 9:30. It’s one thing to be shutting down the subway system absurdly early, it’s an entirely different thing to lie to riders about when that is.
    Then there are those damn signs themselves. There have to be better LED displays on the market. These are too small to read at even a modest distance (and I’m someone with perfect vision!) especially when the text scrolls. Better LED signs are not cheap, but there are worth it (think multiline, multicolor signs which can have one line dedicated to messages while the other is always showing the next train, even counting down the seconds until it arrives)

  2. Greg Dewar says:

    thanks for commeting in the beta version of the new site! eventually the site’s graphics will be a bit more unique, and the layout will be less generic…
    It’s fine if Muni wants to tell us when the subway shuts down, I agree.
    It is NOT great when doing so obliterates the prime function of the sign, which is to tell people the number of minutes until the next train or bus arrives.
    They need to decide something and stick with it so people know what to expect. Otherwise using it becomes that much more of a hassle when it need not be.

  3. Jamison says:

    I’m an interaction designer (for the company which makes the same Movable Type running your new site) and transit is a side interest of mine (my last entry was about the MTC and I’ve also been fooling with my own fantasy muni metro expansion map and I’ve started writing an article about the importance of predictability and eliminating doubt when using transit.
    Predictability and status are really the key. Once those get set as a priority the decisions to support that become easier (such as what you display on those signs, and if you have more than one very important piece of information to display justifies getting two-line signs)

  4. Greg Dewar says:

    Very cool on both counts!
    Maybe you can help me and Mason Powell (our soon to be regular contributor) move the archives from Journalspace properly….we keep getting just one thing wrong….MT is a superior system to our old platform though, and we really like controlling our destiny via domains and whatnot….still….

  5. Mike says:

    The problem is that the NextBus signs spend only about 2 of every 10 seconds showing the next train time. The other 8 seconds are spent on the subway closing announcement and the web site address. It really is a poor usage of the limited screen space.
    I think it makes more sense to use NextBus for temporary announcements, such as today’s gas leak that forced a bus bridge on the N-Judah. That is very useful information for riders because they could opt to try and find a different way to their destination.
    Since this is a long term project, why couldn’t they just mount permanent signs in the shelters and not use the NextBus screen space? I must admit, however, that I first learned of the Metro closures via the NextBus announcements, which started about a week before the closures.

  6. JiggaDigga says:

    Great reading, keep up the great posts.
    Peace, JiggaDigga

  7. Ken Schmier says:

    I am the inventor and founder of NextBus, and this is my first visit to your site. My role at the company is limited now, but I can tell you that the staff is very sensitive to your thoughts. NextBus manages a very large territory and its customers are very tight. So it needs the help of those that are looking at its displays. When things aren’t working right, or when you have suggestions, please email info@nextbus.com.
    As to the size of the signs, they shrink fast when they go up in the air. Big ones are expensive, but well within transit budgets.
    NextBus gets very little money from the Muni. It would help a lot if you let your SF Supervisor know you value the NB service.
    Ken Schmier

  8. Greg Dewar says:

    Hi Ken
    thanks for the info and the email link…I think the concept of NextBus is great and I use it all the time on my Mac. I think Muni doesn’t always realize how to implement it like they did when they messed up the info on the displays.
    I really think they should update the system to put Next Bus in place on all busy buses and Munis….it would make planning and anticipating a trip much easier.

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