Is it just me or has the bus real time information system got a whole heap worse since its supposed ‘upgrade’ over the past few months?
The bus real time system has always promised more than it has delivered. When it has worked, it is incredibly useful as you don’t have to always keep an eye out for the bus coming along, you have some sense of comfort that the bus really is actually coming and – if the bus is far enough away and there’s something nearby – you can pop into a dairy or a bookshop or wherever in the meanwhile.
Certainly the system has had problems for many years – this is what Brian Rudman wrote in 2009 as an example:
It was a bleak and stormy night when I reached the bus stop buried into the side of the TVNZ headquarters in Victoria St just after 7pm. The timetable on the pole said the next – and last bus for the night – to Herne Bay was at 7.10, so by my watch, and the electronic timetable clock it seemed I was in luck. Down at the other end of the cave-like stop were half a dozen raucous itinerants, one of whom was dicing with death, dashing out into the busy road trying to wash windscreens. A little comic relief.
By 7.15pm I should have suspected all was not well. The electronic timetable had made no mention of an 005, just listing a fleet of Link buses, the next due in 10 minutes.
Then a glimmer of hope lit up the sky: 005 Westmere DLY. DLY is short for delayed.
Perhaps I hadn’t missed it after all. It was just late. Nothing unusual about the Metrolink service there. The Link duly arrived. Did I jump on board, then walk from Ponsonby Rd in the rain, or did I wait? I blame the couple of drinks I’d had beforehand for my stupid decision to let the Link go.
The electronic helper kept reassuring me 005 was DLY until just before 7.30 when it just disappeared. The next Link was now 28 minutes away – so much for the 15-minute gap – and the rain had taken a break, so I started walking, muttering like a crazy man about lying real-time indicator boards. My head swivelled hopefully every time I thought I heard a bus approaching. But not one did in the half-hour walk up College Hill and down to Herne Bay. Nor could I persuade a taxi to stop.
The next morning I checked the bus timetable at Victoria St to ensure I hadn’t misread it in the rain and gloom. But there it was, departure time 7.10pm. It was only then I spotted at the bottom of the page, about the level where a dog would pee, the small print saying all times were “approximate”. Investigating further, I found the official bus timetable says the bus leaves the downtown terminus at 7.05, but that was only an “approximate” time as well.
What really annoys me is having let myself be suckered by the electronic timetable yet again. From 2003, Auckland City Council spent $7 million on setting up and trying to make this flawed system work and failed.
Three years ago, the city flicked the lemon on to the Auckland Regional Transport Authority for a token $1. I wrote at the time that it was a dollar too much.
ARTA claimed it could fix it and expand it out across the region over four years at an added cost of $17.4 million. At the time, ACC officials claimed they had managed to cut the initial error rate of up to 30 per cent down to 3-4 per cent. But a letter to the Herald earlier this year suggests that nothing much has changed.
The boffins blame the bus drivers. The multimillion-dollar system uses an on-board global positioning system, bouncing messages off satellites in space, to predict the timing of more than 730 buses in the Auckland network. The fatal flaw is, it depends on the driver to log on to the system at the beginning of each trip. If he/she doesn’t, then 10 minutes after the scheduled start of the service, the real-time board announces it’s been DLY. Which is a lie, particularly if you’re standing at the first stop after the starting point. It should read, SUCKER, LEFT 10 MINUTES AGO, START WALKING.
An ARTA spokeswoman says the driver on Wednesday started “on time” and they’re investigating why the bus didn’t show up on the system. As cold comfort, she added that “we are in the midst of planning a new, better, real-time system, the current one obviously has its limitations”.
Unfortunately we’ve been hearing that since 2003.
Over the past few months there has supposedly been a major upgrade to this system, with new (presumably quite expensive) equipment and even a different (although more confusing in my opinion with stars and the inclusion of both scheduled and “real” times) layout on the signs.
And there have been the stupidly impossible to read new signs which force you to stand about 3mm away from them in order to find out when the next bus is coming (completely eliminating one of the purposes of the signs in the first place, which lets you check when the bus is coming while still sitting down and reading a book/checking emails).
But it’s the unreliability of the new signs that has really driven me around the bend in recent times. A couple of examples:
- One day waiting for the Link bus after seeing that I’d just missed one, the sign said the next bus was 15 minutes away. So I settled down and dug through my bag for a book, just noticing a second later when another bus ploughed past without stopping.
- Another day I showed up at my regular stop to see that no bus was due for another 16 minutes, then two minutes later one randomly turned up.
A problem with the “old system” was the bus drivers tended to forget to “log in”, which meant that the bus was tracked according to its scheduled time rather than a real time, or wasn’t tracked at all. This is what led to the “DLY” showing on the sign – apparently that meant it was more than 10 minutes since the bus was scheduled to go past the stop and the system had no clue whether it had done so or not.
I’m not sure whether this has been resolved in the new system, but it seems not – pretty strange since I’m sure buses need to log in at the start of all their runs for ticketing purposes. Perhaps it’s something deliberate so the bus reliability stats can continue to put tin pot dictators to shame?
The upshot of all this is the absolutely insane situation where a supposed upgrade to the real time system has actually made things worse. I simply cannot comprehend why it’s so difficult to get this right – every bus has GPS tracking for one reason or another as far as I know (the buses I catch regularly and aren’t picked up by the system are still able to tell me the next stop all the time). So I guess the answer must be sheer incompetence somewhere in the system of making this happen, or the fact that it’s becoming increasingly clear that Auckland Transport doesn’t care much about its PT customers.