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.

6 thoughts on “Better Buses Bit by Bit

  1. Swiss Miss

    I noticed these on many buses in Switzerland. They really helped ease my stress about getting off at the correct stop!

  2. Jeb RachJeb Rach

    I’ve found a couple other bugs/missing features about it:

    1. It only shows one direction for each route. Most routes aren’t terminating at an A Line stop, and I’m not sure how it chooses which direction to show. Both directions really should be shown, if at all possible. (If not, it should be clear why it’s showing a specific direction.)

    2. While it shows the destination of the bus, it doesn’t clearly show the direction. As an irregular rider of a fair amount of routes, I’m not always sure which terminus ties to which direction. I could probably parse it out if I thought about it for a bit, but I also have a decent internal Twin Cities map. Not everyone has that, so something that at least shows the cardinal direction the route is going would help.

    1. John Jones

      I suspect that the system uses the stop location IDs to determine which routes exist on it….but on any given route, each direction uses a location ID because your northbound stop will be across the street from the southbound stop. The two stops on each side of the street should be bundled into a stop pair, which is then used for the display.

      Agreed on the cardinal direction point. It is very daunting to jump onto a bus without doing advance research, and it’s tough to figure things out on-the-fly if you happen to miss a connection. I’ve also found it difficult (or at least more difficult than it should be) to find a reasonable system map. It’d be nice to have one at every bus stop. Or, to maintain simplicity, provide a “system map” that only displays the top 10 used routes (and maybe a few others to fill in major gaps) and then provide a short link/QR code that users can search online for the more comprehensive map.

  3. Tyler Hamilton

    If/when we get around to simplifying the complex branching mess of our bus system, it’d be a lot easier to display both directions a bus route travels for next-trip. Something like “63E” and “63W” would concisely do the job – if the route didn’t need any branch letters. It looks like these displays don’t show you which branch is coming either, just the route, so that would be a good tangible addition!

    It’s also frustrating when (as an example) the 64 bus from the Maplewood Mall is only a “64” bus, even though it travels along either the D or N branch. Coming from downtown St Paul, it displays the branches, but not in reverse. Thus you don’t know if it’ll go to your destination if it’s an intermediate stop. Are there other examples of this in the system?

  4. darin

    I agreed with Tyler,the 74A and 3 buses are good example of a complicated system.
    74A make a detour to Jefferson ,about 7 trips and 2 on Sat.This confuses riders between the two blocks between Lex and Edgecumbe which rarely pick up any passengers .

    Some 3AB will deviate to Kasota .
    Metro Transit must the the only Agency with should a complicated system,too many branches .
    The only busline with hi-freq route is 54for the entire routing now that will change next month..
    They should sell some ads space on the monitors to generate revenue$$$

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