Last week, I downloaded and installed Transit App on my smartphone. My first meaningful use of the app was this past Friday, January 8th when Denver metro commuters awoke to an overnight snowfall of just over two inches and temperatures that reached a high of 29 degrees (-1.66 C). Exactly the sort of conditions when bus riders most need their bus to show up on time. But as any bus rider knows, posted schedules are a suggestion at best and that is under ideal conditions. Throw in a bit of bad weather or traffic congestion or anything else unplanned and your bus gets to your stop when it gets there. As bus riders, we get to just deal with it. Transit App, the first mobile app available to Denver metro transit riders since the Regional Transportation District (RTD) recently released real-time data to app developers, is finally the smartphone-using bus riders’ opportunity to do just that – deal with unpredictable bus arrival times.
The Transit App interface is clean and pretty intuitive. You can plan trips using Leave Now, Leave At or Arrive By options. Otherwise, you can just drop your location on the map where you want to start your ride and the app will highlight the available inbound/outbound bus routes with directions to the nearest bus stop. This all works very well and as expected. It’s once you select a bus route that things start to get interesting. The time shown is either the scheduled upcoming departure time for a given stop or, and this is the good part, a projected departure time (indicated by the little “broadcast” symbol accompanying the time) depending on the real-time location of the next arriving bus for that route. If you tap the map location symbol below the route number, a map opens that shows the location of the arriving bus. Cool, right? Having an idea of when the bus is going to get to your stop is waaaaaaayyyyy better than knowing when the bus is scheduled to get to your stop. Unless, of course, you enjoy waiting around at the bus stop grumbling to yourself and others about the why the system can’t run on time.
But be careful – a little power can be dangerous. During my morning commute I tried to get cute and wait until about two minutes before the app projected the bus would depart my stop. Hey, it was cold and snowing and I didn’t want to wait outside any longer than absolutely necessary. And besides, I had a real-time app! Well, I got to my stop just after the bus had departed. Fortunately, the bus was stuck in slow-moving, slushy-condition, commuter traffic – why it was behind schedule in the first place – and I was able to run without doing a faceplant on icy sidewalks and through about three street intersections to the next stop before the bus arrived. Once I sat down, panting, I opened the app to try to figure out what happened. Turns out that the projected location of the bus lags the actual bus location by a few minutes.
I checked this a few times on the way into downtown and the projected bus location never caught up to the actual bus location. I’ve no idea if this lag time is consistent across metro Denver because it may differ depending on your location and how long it takes for the real-time location data to bounce from RTD to your phone. My advice, don’t risk a faceplant and subtract about five minutes from the projected departure time. Waiting five minutes is still better than not knowing if a bus is going to arrive or not.
As if all that goodness is not enough, Transit App also shows location data for RTD Light Rail, Uber, Denver B-cycle and car2go. Oh, Transit App is a battery eater, so use sparingly. The app is available for download through Apple’s AppStore and Google play. Try it out and let me know what you think.