Better Buses Bit by Bit

Bit by bit, computer technology is demystifying the unavoidably complex Twin Cities transit system. Say you’re on the bus but your trip requires a transfer and you’re unsure when the connection will arrive. You can look it up on your smart phone, but wouldn’t it be nice if an on-bus display just teed it up for you?

That’s exactly what new displays do on the A Line. Each bus has three.

Two are placed halfway back, facing both directions above the aisle. The third has a different vertical format to fit the panel behind the driver.

They list the next three stops. For the next stop, a list of the connecting buses appears, followed by the minutes until the next bus arrives on each route. The route number and destination are shown. The format is similar to Metro Transit’s Nextrip.

The first screen, listing only connecting routes.

The second screen gives the departure times.

This being the first rollout of the signs, I spotted some missing information. Light rail departures don’t show. I’m guessing the rail real-time departure system isn’t yet talking to the buses, but that will change eventually.

Approaching Rosedale Transit Center, which has 9 connecting routes, no departure times appeared, only the connection route list. However, multiple route times appeared as we approached the Blue Line 46th Street Station.

Multi-screen display for the numerous departures from the Blue Line 46th Street Station.

Once again, I’m assuming the shortcomings will be fixed.

If you’re sweating a connection, it certainly reduces your anxiety to know when it’s leaving. Transfer stress is one reason people don’t use transit. So this is one more step in the right direction.

Once any bugs are fixed and the format fine-tuned, it ought to be applicable to the rest of the system, probably starting with the rail lines and the upcoming partial BRT lines. Taking it systemwide will be a multi-million dollar project, but if they can find the money it should happen.

Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.