back to article TfL, WTH is my bus? London, UK, looks up from its mobile

It's peak morning commute time in the capital of the United Kingdom and the live bus arrival service on Transport for London's website, SMS and apps powered by TfL’s API feed has been unavailable since 3am. Apps using TfL's API – which provides realtime bus and river bus arrival information across all TfL bus stops and piers …

  1. jake Silver badge

    There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    But really, the bus will be along shortly. As always. And guess what? There is absolutely no app on the planet that will speed up that process. The bus will get there when it gets there, and not a moment sooner.

  2. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    Well, knowing the approximate time when the bus arrives would aid making the critical decision whether it would be better to, perhaps, walk. Or take the tube. Or change the bus stop for an alternative route.

  3. Alister Silver badge

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    Well, knowing the approximate time when the bus arrives would aid making the critical decision whether it would be better to, perhaps, walk.

    Once upon a time, there used to be pieces of paper, called timetables, which could unerringly tell you the approximate time a bus was due to arrive at a particular stop. These were a miracle of modern technology, requiring no power source, and no WiFi or phone signal.

  4. jake Silver badge

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    And said timetables, after decades of tweaking/massaging/improving, were actually quite accurate. All you had to do was look at the nearest church clock and you'd know exactly when the next bus would be along. I rode the bus all over Greater London (when it made more sense than the Tube), and never had any issues with being tardy.

    But I'm a curmudgeonly old fart. Apps are clearly better, because "new, shiny".

  5. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    Bus timetables in London? Well, yes, most stops do have a plaque which will tell you that, in the given time of day, the buses are supposed to be arriving every 10 minutes, or some other made up interval. The trouble is, bus drivers seem to be unaware of it. Which is why these do not have much practical use, hence the word plaque used. As in, "a small commemorative ornamental tablet, typically made of metal".

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    unerringly tell you the approximate time

    Oxymoron detected.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    So we have two bus stops right outside our office (one on either side of the road) and they're very helpful for getting to work especially if you're late. Everyone on their PC in their browser has a link/bookmark to the Live Arrivals screen of each of the bus stops. It's actually very handy because we can tell when guests/clients etc. using public transport will arrive using this https://traintimes.org.uk/map/london-buses/#1 and go down and let them in. Also very handy for productivity as knowing when to go down for the bus means you're not hanging round at the bus stop and could be working. Saves time on your lunch hour as the nearest food outlet is a long walk and going to the post office is a darn sight quicker.

  8. Just Enough

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    "All you had to do was look at the nearest church clock and you'd know exactly when the next bus would be along. "

    Get you with your dependency on unnecessary new gadgets. What's wrong with asking a passing watchman the hour, then telling the footman to fetch a sturdy pony and trap from the stable?

  9. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Re: timetables

    Sadly Tfl have recently stopped issuing timetables even for the Tube.

    There are working timetables but not generally available to the public.

    Don't worry. When your No 7 to East Acton comes along, there will be three more right behind it all empty. such is the nature of London Busses.

  10. JimboSmith Silver badge

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    There was an OAP at the bus stop this morning who was concerned about the lack of info on the countdown screen (the live arrivals screen attached to the ceiling of the bus stop). She was already very hot from the heat and wanted to know if she should go to the doctors by taxi instead as her appointment was approaching. I said I'd check on line and then discovered that the mobile web version of countdown wasn't working either. She said she'd just get a taxi in that case as "get any hotter and I'll pass out".

    I always thought the elderly had a built in radar signal as they always seemed to turn up at the bus stop just before the bus would turn up.

  11. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    These were a miracle of modern technology work of fiction.

  12. Tom 38 Silver badge

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    Timetables might work in your dinky donk toy town; in the big city, timetables are just a guideline.

    And also, once upon a time, we used to just stand there at the bus stops, waiting, waiting, waiting... with a feed, we know that the bus is 15 minutes away, we might as well take a different bus and change.

  13. roytrubshaw
    Headmaster

    Re: timetables

    "When your No 7 to East Acton comes along, there will be three more right behind it all empty. such is the nature of London Busses."

    <pedant>

    Strictly speaking it's more to do with the nature of London traffic than the bus itself.

    It's always a problem in cities and towns; buses would be so much more consistent with the published timetable if it weren't for other road users and --- more importantly --- passengers!

    </pedant>

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    unerringly tell you the approximate time

    Oxymoron detected.

    Not at all, they were unerringly inaccurate...

    :)

  15. Tromos

    Re: timetables

    www.londonbusroutes.net

    Timetables and just about everything short of the driver's names.

  16. ChrisC

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    For the routes the OH works on, there are two types of timekeeping employed - reporting points and headways.

    On routes using reporting points, there are a handful of places along the route (typically the start and end points plus a few selected stops at regular intervals) at which the bus is expected to turn up at a specific time. At other points along the route, *including any bus stops not designated as reporting points*, the bus is free to arrive/depart at any time as required in order to ensure it arrives at the next reporting point as close to the required time as possible.

    On headway routes, buses are instead expected to maintain a fixed time offset to the bus ahead of them, so that whilst the exact time of arrival at any given stop isn't defined, the interval between buses at each stop ought to be consistent.

    Bus operating companies take this quite seriously, and drivers can and do get hauled up in front of their line management if they're regularly seen to be ignoring the reporting point or headway timings without a damn good reason (e.g. emergency roadworks throwing the whole schedule into disarray). The amount of monitoring of London bus and driver performance that goes on is quite something to see if you're still of the belief that buses are these antiquated means of getting from A to B, little more than giant tin boxes on wheels still pottering around in blissful ignorance of the march of technology all around them - realtime position tracking to enable the onboard stop announcements and remote monitoring of timings/headways back at the control centre, onboard acceleration/braking/cornering force logging (which are also used as a way of beating up the drivers if they're seen to be driving in a manner not in keeping with whatever policy their company has - e.g. driving for maximum passenger comfort, driving to maximise fuel economy etc), multi-camera interior and exterior CCTV setups, system diagnostics/fault logging (particularly so on the hybrids/other alternative fuel buses)...

    So if a London bus doesn't arrive within the time interval stated on the bus stop, it generally means something has gone wrong further up the route, and only rarely will it mean that the bus is being driven by someone who really doesn't care about maintaining correct timings. There certainly are some drivers like that, they just tend not to last very long in the job these days given how quickly their employer will come down on them like a large quantity of rectangular fired clay building blocks - most drivers are only too keen to avoid the risk of disciplinary action, so do attempt to maintain the required timings if possible.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    And said timetables, after decades of tweaking/massaging/improving, were actually quite accurate

    Ah yes, but the fun bit of an electronic timetable is that you can change it without anyone noticing, so a once-every-15-minutes bus can become a once-every-hour when they're short of drivers and nobody will be able to prove it was changed. That sort of progress will eventually make it to Southern Rail as well, I guess.

    But I'm a curmudgeonly old fart

    Yes.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    The amount of monitoring of London bus and driver performance that goes on is quite something to see if you're still of the belief that buses are these antiquated means of getting from A to B, (etc etc)

    .. until it fails, clearly.

  19. Kay Burley ate my hamster

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    With the massive variation in traffic we have in London, timetables are absolutely pointless. Routes don't always run their full length if delayed for example, the app tells you the destination meaning you will see if letting one go past will get you the full distance on the bus 2 mins behind.

  20. John 110

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    "I always thought the elderly had a built in radar signal as they always seemed to turn up at the bus stop just before the bus would turn up."

    A) only if you are in a hurry

    B) they have an app on their hearing aid

  21. Simon Harris Silver badge

    Re: timetables

    "Don't worry. When your No 7 to East Acton comes along, there will be three more right behind it all empty. such is the nature of London Busses."

    An excellent use of the mobile bus tracker. There is a bus I can catch outside of work, but it is usually packed. Two stops up the road are alternative buses which are not so packed. With the tracker I can see whether I can get away with the stop outside work, if one likely packed bus is followed closely by two likely less packed others, or whether to head up the road for the alternative less packed routes.

  22. Benno

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    In my part of the world, they're called 'time points', but the rules are somewhat the same (dare I say almost an international standard?!). A few minutes late is ok, but a minute early is most certainly not.

    When things go wrong and vehicle needs to go off-route, or cut in/out due to breakdowns, accuracy can go a bit pear shaped. There can also be issues with prediction resolution at the start of trips (due to insufficient _relevant_ data from that vehicle at the time).

    And the thousand other 'edge cases' - not including a full API failure!

    Yeah, I run a public transport real-time tracking system as part of my day job - no it's not with TfL :P

  23. keithpeter
    Coat

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    @Just Enough: Shadow of the old tree falling on the fourth kerb stone beyond the parish boundary and Summer? Must be 2pm ish.

    All: I recommend The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills to anyone who can remember when it was possible to run and jump onto the platform of the last bus as it left the station...

  24. Cpt Blue Bear

    Re: There, there children. Sorry your pacifier is b0rken.

    "Timetables might work in your dinky donk toy town; in the big city, timetables are just a guideline."

    I recall them working well in Tokyo so I guess it should work in your dinky donk toy town of London :-)

  25. Warm Braw Silver badge

    WTF is my bus?

    If you're travelling from Kirknewton to Wooler, the bus will be there on Wednesday and you'll have less than two hours before the trip back. Perhaps we should take advantage of the temporary inability to track the London buses and divert them to somewhere they would do more good.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: WTF is my bus?

    Before people claim that in the old days it was different. We went for a family Sunday walk in the 1950s - and my father missed a turning. After about 10 miles we ended up at a crossroads with a pub. A signpost back to the city and a bus stop seemed good omens. Getting us some pop he asked the publican "when is the next bus" - "Next Wednesday".

    The publican kindly gave us a lift to the start of the regular bus route in the city. As it was still early evening my parents decided to visit some relatives who lived in that area. Subsequently we missed the last bus from that end of the route - and had to walk two miles to the main bus station.

    We never let my father forget that lapse in his usually unerring "navigation bump". Needless to say - I still walk everywhere I can.

  27. TRT Silver badge

    Re: WTF is my bus?

    Back in 1988 my fiancée's sister went for a job interview in a small village somewhere around the southern end of the West Midlands. She caught the bus down there easily enough, the train service having succumb to the Beeching axe many years previously.

    Interview over, she returned to the bus stop with the latest door stop of a paperback, and after an hour and a half of waiting she asked a passerby "Excuse me, when's the next bus?" The passerby looked down at their watch then quite seriously and calmly replied... "Next Tuesday".

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: WTF is my bus?

    "The passerby looked down at their watch then quite seriously and calmly replied... "Next Tuesday"."

    It is not unusual for our nearby villages to have a bus service that has one journey into town in the morning and a return in the afternoon - there is no service on Sundays. Obviously catering for shopping and medical appointments that are not provided in the villages.

    The local bus companies operate this type of service over an area covering several villages and "opposing" nearby towns. They have "travelling salesman" routing schemes that ensure a passing bus is going in the right direction through a village only at the appropriate time.

  29. Chris Evans

    Re: WTF is my bus?

    I suspect most TFL bus users are on routes that have one every 10-15minutes ore so. So the app has little benefit. It is those bus routes that are half an hour or longer between that would really benefit. I wonder how many 'out in the sticks' routes have the information available and a suitable app?

    Just looked at my local bus companies website Stagecoach

    "No service updates

    Sorry, there are no service updates matching your selection"

    And no app that I can see:-(

  30. Cpt Blue Bear

    Re: WTF is my bus?

    "So the app has little benefit."

    Au contraire, it has tremendous benefit. As the first poster here said, its a pacifier. It gives people something to do while their bus is not arriving. This results in happier customers and fewer complaints without actually improving the service.

  31. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Re: WTF is my bus?

    Back in 1988 my fiancée's sister went for a job interview in a small village somewhere around the southern end of the West Midlands. [...] "Excuse me, when's the next bus?" [...] "Next Tuesday".

    Let me guess - she stayed in that village, married a local and lived happily ever after?

  32. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Re: WTF is my bus?

    "Au contraire, [the app] has tremendous benefit. As the first poster here said, its a pacifier. It gives people something to do while their bus is not arriving. This results in happier customers and fewer complaints without actually improving the service."

    It also keeps the people busy and focused on their phones, thus eliminating all the tedious chatting, relaxing and making friends that people were previously forced to do while waiting for buses.

  33. ratfox Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Why the complex technical solution? Aren't printouts of the timetable displayed at bus stops?

  34. Tromos

    Aren't printouts of the timetable displayed at bus stops?

    In many cases, no. You often get times of first and last buses and then a frequency for a range of times such as '10:00 - 16:00 every 15-20 minutes'. Unless you actually caught a glimpse of the previous one disappearing down the road you've no idea if the next is along in a minute or you have a quarter of an hour or more to wait. The complex technology exists, I see no reason to restrict usage to necessities. Anything that can make life a little more pleasant helps.

  35. TRT Silver badge

    I actually found a bus stop (in London!) where the timetable was an eInk screen, powered by a solar panel on the top of the pole. Every time a bus went past, about every 5 minutes, the display would turn black then refresh, updating the timetable. An ideal use case I would say!

  36. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    timetables at Bus Stops?

    not in the majority of London they aren't.

    You get first and last times and a average time between services if you are lucky.

  37. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Aren't printouts of the timetable displayed at bus stops?"

    Yes. That gives you the theory. Actual bus users are more interested in the practice.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHEN MY BUS WILL COME

    Rosh... whoevever you are, just shut up. You twat.

  39. Oh Matron!

    Walk....

    FTW!

  40. TheProf
    Angel

    Google it

    I've just looked at Google maps on my phone and it shows the bus-stops near my house. Clicking on the bus-stop icon and a list of buses and times comes up. It even shows if the bus is running on time.

    Of course I don't know if this information is accurate but it's something to look at while you wait for the omnibus to arrive.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Of course I don't know if this information is accurate but it's something to look at while you wait for the omnibus to arrive."

    Some stops require you to signal the driver if you want the bus to stop. That involves spotting the particular service bus that you want in time to stick your arm out.

  42. John 110

    Demand stops...

    "Some stops require you to signal the driver if you want the bus to stop. That involves spotting the particular service bus that you want in time to stick your arm out."

    Not useful if you're checking your phone for the bustimes...

    (Yes I was...)

  43. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Joke

    The usual pattern

    So after a delay, will three apps arrive at the same time?

  44. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    TITSUP

    Total Inability To Satisfy Unhappy Pedestrians

  45. Paratrooping Parrot
    Mushroom

    Do buses complete their journey?

    I still have memories of using buses around 2005, when the bus driver would suddenly say it was the "end of the road", quite a bit from the end point. That used to annoy me, because I wasted an Oyster journey on that. I would have to look for another bus.

    I would sometimes walk to the next bus stop if I saw that I missed my bus.

  46. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    What's a bus?

  47. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    thought for the day..

    If there's no time table is the bus still late?

  48. viscount

    A great service

    If you had asked me a year ago whether visibility of what buses were arriving where and when would be helpful, I probably would have been lukewarm.

    However, having recently consumed the service via mobile apps it is genuinely useful because you can decide which bus to take from which stop, or whether to walk or get a tube. It sounds trivial but for a city the size of London it's a big deal: there are so many bus users and each gets a little bit of benefit.

    Good work TfL.

  49. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
    Windows

    Difference between should and will?

    Not much use knowing that the bus SHOULD arrive in 3 minutes when it WILL arrive in 45 minutes because of unexpected delays.

    Accurate tracking of busses is a good thing and a good use of technology.

    Tell that to the Luddites of today......

  50. TheTor

    Even with the app, times listed are optional

    I live in London, two stops away from the last stop on my particular route. Using the TFL website, I regularly see 'due in 5 minutes'. 10 minutes later, it still says 'Due in 5 minutes' as the driver for whatever reason still hasn't left yet.

    I've also had occasions when it would say it was 5 minutes away (usually when it's absolutely bloody freezing!), only for nothing to turn up and 5 minutes later re-checking only to find that 5 minutes turned to 15 (as though they stopped short and turned it around, and the next one is now on the list instead).

    Even with live tracking, it still only tells you how long it should take to get there from where it currently is, not how long it will take to get there...

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