Londoners will soon be able to use their phones to check when the next bus is coming, thanks to a new feed of data opened up by Transport For London and available on a mobile-optimised website. The Live Bus Departures Countdown service will be useful for passengers lingering, fretful and uninformed, at the 17,000 London bus …
Why is this news?
Travel West Midlands have had mobile-accessible (by SMS, which *every* GSM/PCN mobile has) "next bus" info for years. Maybe other bus operators have too.
Wake up, TfL.
Agreed, Norfolk has had the same thing for the past 3 or 4 years as well, but we're considered backward?
the technical challenges in doing this for a gigantic city with public transport on the scale of London far outweigh those of putting a small, regional service online.
Same here in Portland, Oregon, with what sounds like exactly the same system as London is implementing (even the 5-digit PINs for bus stops). Only ours does Web access and touchtone dialup (through a connection to the phone tree at the transit agency's main number) as well.
Ditto for Oxford
Oxontime is a pretty nice little system...
Are you sure that's not just the next timetabled departures? That's all we get in Somerset. However I see First in North Somerset are trialling Twitter for this though only between 9 and 5 which seems a bit daft to me.
The West Midlands has a population of over 5 million, so they'll need a different excuse.
‘You feed beefburgers to swans!’
How did this not already exist?
I thought with all the on-board fanciness on London buses (compared to ooop north) that this must already exist.
West Yorkshire Metro has had this for years now:
Not the nicest interface but it works.
had this for ages in Edinburgh
We've had this for ages in Edinburgh. There's even good apps on Android and iPhone.
Will there be phantoms?
I know that around Ipswich and Cambridge there are bus stops with displays that show how many minutes away buses are. Reassuring as the time countdown may be, the occasional disappearance of a bus just when it's due doesn't inspire confidence. (I mean that no bus turns up, not that it vanishes from the display.) I guess that the system has default times for buses that fail to trigger transponders and when a bus fails to leave a depot, a phantom bus gets shown on the indicator boards. Presumably someone or something should remove these phantoms, when the bus is genuinely cancelled, but fails.
Perhaps Londoners won't be so ecstatic if the same software is used by TFL.
Mine's the one with the Oyster card pocket on the right cuff (not the left upper arm like skiing jackets).
That's exactly what happens
with the bus stop boards in London. It's got nothing to do with where the bus actually is - it just tells you where it's timetabled to be. It's a complete waste of money.
Given the usual level of efficiency at tfl, I have no doubt that the same flaw will be included in any new system.
The proper countdown signs do update based on GPS data from the buses
Even Edinburgh (which can't even seem to get trams working...) has had this for a while - http://www.mybustracker.co.uk/, including a WAP interface.
There's also a rather useful Android app for the same (which I use) and an iPhone one.
I think it's cool
I don't live in London, but I've been there - apparently unlike the first two commentards. London is batshit-insane when it comes to buses.
Sterling job TFL, now how about a map showing where all the buses are in real-time, I could watch that for hours...
TFL Shill Spotted
Yeah, I've been there too, and as the article states, they do have the side-of-road variety in places, so the tracking already takes place, and the data already exists.
I don't care how "batshit insane" you think the actual buses are, providing data they already track, in a public-visible manner is trivial compared to some of the stuff TFL have to deal with. The fact that most other places already have such a system confirms it.
If you think it's cool because you wrote it, fair enough. It'll probably be a lot nicer to use than the others. Still way behind the times though, and no amount of astroturfing can fix TFL's reputation in that area I'm afraid.
The ones for Dublin bus remind me of this http://xkcd.com/612/
Don't believe that London is ever ahead
We barely have live update 'next bus' screens anywhere. And the ones we have are so inaccurate its unbearable - my H91 goes from 15 mins -14-7-disappeared completely-2-3-4-disappeared again and then just arrives.
if the TFL site just provides this then I may as well just guess anyway!
If it works properly, it'll be a godsend though (like the national rail one, which is brilliant)
Re: Don't believe that London is ever ahead
> "And the ones we have are so inaccurate its unbearable - my H91 goes from 15 mins -14-7-disappeared completely-2-3-4-disappeared again and then just arrives."
Perhaps it's re-using code from Microsoft's file copy timer?
Countdown usability design
So, there's a four line display, showing
bus 1 6mins
bus 5 17 mins
bus 6 14 days
bus 7 23 years
wait... display updates
bus 1 3mins
bus 8 4 life times
bus 9 1 epoch
bus 10 you get the picture
wait... display updates
bus 1 1mins
Am I the only person in London who wonders why the display isn't
bus 4-n in a rolling display
If I don't want bus 1-3 I have a clear idea what is my minimum waiting time
Original DLR boards
The original displays for the Docklands Light railway (known as the toytown railway at the time) could have you believe you were within 3 minutes of a train arriving a dozen times in an hour, yet the first train to appear might be 45 minutes after you arrived. Its the only countdown timer I've ever encountered that counted up as often as it counted down.
Any man on bus over the age is 20 is a failure in life.
Includes me then as I get the 76 each day to avoid the tube.
Long long overdue
Although if share the same penchant as the display boards for making one in every three buses vanish when within spitting distance of your stop any time the temperature is below 10 deg C or it's hammering down, it'll be a mixed blessing at best.
Sorry we are experiencing problems with the service. Please try again later.
Definitely still beta then...
"Definitely still beta then..."
While I admire your implied confidence in the robustness of the final version, I feel it may be misplaced.....
Not the same..
This is to everyone who says that other companies have had this sort of thing for ages.
This is true. However, AFAIK, those systems work on the bus passing transponders in the bus stop signs that then signal to their surround stops which bus(es) have passed.
London's old system worked this way, and tended to be wildly inaccurate from time to time.
The newer system uses a GPS equipped computer onboard each bus that as well as announcing any stops via the bus PA system, also transmits it's location to a central computer that maintains database storing the location of ALL TFL buses. This system also updates all the bus stop signs, and also the feeds used by this site, and presumably any upcoming apps (be they Android, iPhone, Java or whatever).
As the one in Cardiff? Not sure how that one woks, but you can look up where buses are on an online map. That's been about for a few years.
Now, if they could get the 151 drivers to move on schedule rather than waiting at the end stop until a 213 goes past so it can shadow it for half the route then it really would make a difference to my life.
Let's hope it's better than our train one...
...in the snow all trains were on time, then would disappear 10 minutes after they failed to arrive.
We didn't have trains for 3 days!
re: In fairness
I was recently in Oakland, CA - a city of substantial size comparable to Manchester/Liverpool. They have it.
"It has 3 annoying youths on board"
This is something I don't get: I see UK people talking about 'chavs' and 'youths' all the time, but there's never really any good definition. I mean, what's a 'youth'? Under 18? 21? 30? Or anyone younger than the speaker?
Chav seems to be a whole other issue; my best guess at this point is that it involves sneakers, a hooded sweat shirt, very short hair, and a consistently non-cerebral bearing. And, often, carrying a car stereo with the cables ripped off at the end. Close?
Well, if it's any help, the noted intellectual and former Head of All The Turkmen Saparmurat Niyazov said that a man is a youth until he is 37: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2191117.stm
Although, to be fair, he also suggest people should chew on bones to strengthen their teeth instead of getting fillings, so you might want to take that with a grain of salt.
Seems to work
As my road has a couple of bus routes that run along it I checked it out and the damn thing works.
And I though that TfL had forgotten some of the outer reaches of Norf Lundun.
Doesn't look very "mobile optimised" to me. Try http://m.countdown.tfl.gov.uk/
P.S. Can't believe no-one else has used the "Stop" icon. I mean, if ever...
Fact check before posting, please
"those systems work on the bus passing transponders in the bus stop signs that then signal to their surround stops which bus(es) have passed."
Maybe in your part of the world. However...
WMPTE/Centro/Travel West Midlands were talking about GPS-based travel information stuff a decade ago, piloting it shortly after that, and it is now routine. If I could be bothered finding a reference... but I can't.
So, if you don't have a clue, S T F U.
"So, if you don't have a clue, S T F U."
Funny how you can say that, yet don't have the bollocks to post using any kind of identifiable name..
Anyhow, I am sorry I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of how all the UK bus systems work, but, you see, I have a life. Unlike you, apparently.
If ever there was a killer-app for QR-Codes...
... this is it. Stick a big one up on each bus-stop linking straight to the "next arrivals" page for that stop.
I wonder if they're thinking about it already, hope so.
It's using OpenStreetMap isn't it? Looks very like it. Superb if it is!
You don't need a browser or even SMS
Why not put this on Cell Broadcast, which almost all GSM phones support?
Faster for the user and less server demand for TFL
Always have unintended consequences, I've learnt.
Busses have to wait as people arrive during a scheduled stop instead of before a scheduled stop and waiting in line.
They get called over on non scheduled stops by "good samaritans" holding the bus for others to join it's predicted arrival time.
The bus is then late for every "London bus mobile timings beta" timing. And the scheme hopefully collapses.
A link to the present location of a Bus would be much more useful, letting the Human brain work out likely delays based on the time, distance, traffic and any other relevant information.
Yes, its not new, but THIS is dead cool ...
A live map of London Underground:
Don't know how accurate it is but it seems to be and its all OS ... love it, love it, love it!
That Centro reference
A brief writeup of the GPS-based Centro/Network West Midlands system can be found at
Not mentioned in that article, but confirmed elsewhere, the milestones: first talked about a decade ago, trials 2003-2006, deployment soon thereafter.
Not long then.
They started fitting London Buses with the GPS units in late 2007/2008 IIRC, so not long after that trial.
While it's a bummer that TFL took so long, I suspect the reason might be simply that there a lot of buses in London that needed to have the correct equipment fitted.
This is bollocks
When Countdown was first implemented in the late 90s, I was working tech support on the system. The reason it's not GPS (which was tried) was due to the number of tall buildings in close proximity and innacuracy. Instead, they used a system of beacons on buses that talked to street beacons, so that the system knew, every time a bus passed one, where it was.
In testing, it worked... perfectly. In practice it failed and does now. The reason is NOT due to it showing when a bus is timetabled to arrive, not y any means. The real reason is this. 99% of the "failures" were fixed by the engineers removing the foil, tin cans, crisp wrappers etc that the drivers had pushed in front of the lens to confuse it so the system couldn't track them. It failed because of sabotage, and I don't mean just pushing it down the side of the seat, this was way above eye level.
The onbly way this will ever be fixed in London is to remove the drivers from the equation, and we can guess where that will end.
So why are there not QR bar-codes on every bus stop? 1 scan tells you when the next buses for that stop are.
Or perhaps if they had a list of the bus routes that use the stop, they could include a QR code for each route, which would just tell you the times for that bus route.
Has had this for the 5 years. It works very well with almost no phantoms.
It's great as I can turn up just before the bus with no hanging around. It's even been incorporated in Google maps!
Ah hah! A solution!
First, give each bus a FaceBook page...
We have that in Auckland
www.maxx .co.nz - lets you finish you cup of tea when the bus is 7 minutes away. You get there and it's already been :(
@If ever there was a killer-app for QR-Codes...
In the Centro/WMPTE system, each relevant bus stop has its own multiletter code. You text it to a shortcode, it replies with details of the next arrivals. No hip-trendy camera needed, just a phone with alphabetic as well as numeric keys. Ie pretty much anything.