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Yes, I do love CTA's bus tracker

This weekend is the first time I had the opportunity to try out the CTA's new bus tracker program.

And I love it.

Bus_tracker_2 I was commuting to St. Joseph Hospital at 2900 N. Diversey to visit my mom, who is recovering from surgery after a fall. (She's doing well, thank you.)

I remembered that the #77 Belmont was added in June to the CTA's Bus Tracker. And I saw that it stops in front of the hospital as it turns around to get back to Belmont. So I tried it out.

I was using my Blackberry on the Red Line south as I approached Belmont from Addison. the text-only interface was easy to use. It told me that the bus was 5 minutes from Belmont and Sheffield. So I figured I was in good shape.

However, when I finally got to the street level at Belmont, the bus was waiting in front of the Belmont station. I think perhaps it was a minute early. I would have missed it if someone else hadn't flagged down the driver after he had already closed the door.

The return trip was much better. In fact, I timed the bus once before I actually caught it. I was able to see it coming down Lake Shore Drive West from the eighth-floor solarium in the hospital, and it was exactly on time. So I noted when the bus was five minutes away, kissed Mom good-bye, and waited just two minutes for the bus to arrive.

All-in-all, I was very impressed and quite happy to spend more time with Mom and not waiting at the bus stop.

Comments

I love it and depend on it. My cellphone is a Sidekick, which has a decent browser, so I've bookmarked a number of the specific stops I tend to use in the browser itself so I can quickly check what's approaching those stops. And with a half-dozen routes I regularly take included on the tracker, I've got a mini HTML page that I created for each bookmarked as well, with quick access to the stops I most commonly use on those routes. The CTA's interface takes a few clicks and page loads to reach an individual stop; I never have more than two.

A heads up: The text-only display, by default, shows you every route on the tracker approaching your stop. Let's say you pick up the 147 at Michigan and Randolph:

http://www.ctabustracker.com/bustime/wireless/html/eta.jsp?route=147&direction=North%20Bound&stop=Michigan%20%26%20Randolph&id=1119

But in rush hour that's going to show you a few routes you don't care about, and the CTA doesn't give you a checkbox to use to turn it off as it does on the Javascript windows. Add this to your bookmark after the id=1119 portion:

&showAllBusses=off

And you'll get only the 147s. (Or whatever route it is you're checking.) (Also, note that the CTA uses the correct plural of "bus.")

There have been a couple of mornings (including today) where I checked the 147's progress southbound near my stop, found that the gaps were large enough that the buses would be packed, and diverted to a slower but emptier Red Line. (In both cases I checked; the 147s the tracker showed me were already parked at the turnaround at Congress by the time I got to my desk.)

And I'm sorry to hear about your Mom but glad she's recovering well.

Yeah, I don't know that I love it yet. I need to bookmark some bus route and bus stop pages in Safari on my iPhone -- scrolling through all those stops to find mine is a bit of a pain. Also, still waiting for the addition of the 22 and 36 buses...

Also, glad to hear your mom's recovery is going well.

I love the bus tracker idea, but I've found the execution falls down in a couple of places:

First, sometimes the bus tracker shows no bus coming, but then one shows up. Good problem to have, right? Well, sort of, except in my situation, I ride the 77 bus to the El when one is coming, otherwise I walk. So if I'd known a bus was coming, I would have changed my behavior. (Same goes for someone staying inside until they know the bus is coming.) I think this might happen when a bus is added to the route to combat bus bunching--again, a great thing!, but I'd like to see those buses in the tracker too.

Second, since I usually take the bus at rush hour, sometimes a bus comes along that's so full that it can't take on any more passengers. Of course, the bus tracker doesn't "know" this, so it shows a bus coming, hence I wait... only to be denied when the bus actually comes along. It'd be really nice if the driver could signal that they're not taking passengers (tricky, I realize, since if some passengers leave the bus, it'd be "available" again).

Minor gripes I guess, except that given these issues, I can't really rely on the tracker to give me accurate information, at which point I wind up basically ignoring it.

@Jasmine: Yep, bookmarking does the trick for me. Since my bus usage is so repetitive, I just bookmark about two stop/direction pages and I'm done.

the bus tracker has been around for a while, why review it so late in the game?

Being that I use to live in New York and there was no bus tracker at all, this feature is pretty great. I mean, I understand sometimes it doesn't work (waited for 40mins for a 20 bus when it said it was arriving in 5mins), but it really does help in commuting.

If only the subways can also have a tracker also....

I like it. I wish I had a phone with a web browser so I can decide whether to wait for the 77 after getting off the L in the evening, but oh well. I figured out the other day that Mac users can open the tracker in Dashboard using Safari to make a Bus Tracker widget. I wake up in the morning, hit F12, and boom, bus tracker.

I've had pretty good experiences using the system thus far. Occasionally a bus is much later than estimated or one shows up where not indicated but I've found this to be pretty rare.

I most often use it when trying to judge if its faster in the morning to catch a convenient 8 bus or walk to Belmont for the train. With 3 tracking and work in the subway the 8 bus is almost always the faster way to reach my job in the west loop.

Any word on the new bus routes that will be available next month? The 146 & 147 is nice, but I'd love to have the 136 available.

Someday the #11 will be tracked and I will reach nirvana.

Funny you should mention that, Painhertz, I made a similar comment in an e-mail to CTA regarding something else that happened on the #11 recently and the "Bus Tracker Team" actually e-mailed me back. I was shocked and amused all at the same time. It's difficult not to think that e-mails to CTA become dark matter in cyberspace. This is the first time I haven't gotten a form response. There was, however, no specific information about when we'll reach nirvana. In the meantime, Bus Tracker has been working well on the iPhone. I have the Tracker page for my most-used route saved in Safari and it pops right up. The timings are occasionally off, but it's helpful to know if I need to hurry up or if I can waste a few more minutes.

Sorry to hear about Mother Tattler's mishap, Kevin. Glad to know she's on the mend.

The hospital's at 2900 N. Lake Shore Drive. Diversey runs East-West.

On Milwaukee Ave. heading South, I have to deduct five minutes from Bus Tracker's ETA in order to catch it near the Belmont/Milwaukee intersection. Bus Tracker's not foolproof. At least the CTA is making an effort, though.

I agree with everyone who wishes the trains were also trackable.

As for the trains being trackable, most cell phones don't get service underground. But, as has been mentioned by the CTA, many stations will be getting signs that announce how far away the next train is. It's not portable, but still pretty useful. Hopefully we start seeing these later this year.

Even if cell phones don't get service underground, the information may still be useful to someone. Someone could check before heading underground. Also, most of the "L" system is above ground.

Very limited use information. There are millions of people who don't have that kind of mobile technology at their fingertips. I'd prefer it if the CTA could work on things that benefit everybody, not just the people who can afford fancy cell phones, computers, and internet.

Actually, it would be really useful if the CTA created a gateway to the tracker over SMS, which virtually every cell phone has at a very reasonable cost.

That said, as it is right now, the tracker is useful enough that anyone who could benefit from it should consider a phone and plan that provide access the next time they upgrade. You don't need a tricked-out iPhone; there are some pretty affordable phones that include Internet access.

Sometimes a bus is delayed more than the tracker expects. That happens. Still, I love bus tracker. Really helps.

As for being a tool only for the well-to-do . . . well, it's better than no tool being available at all. Besides, I can honestly say that the punk kids I see heading to Schurz and Lakeview on the bus in the morning have some of the nicest phones I've ever seen, and there is no indication that they are wealthy. It all depends on your priorities.

I've been pretty impressed with it, The southbound 8 that gets me at Halsted and Wrightwood is almost always on time according to the bus tracker, I have waited at Grand/Milw/Halsted to go north when it tells me 5 minutes and I wait 30 but thats rare. Please get the 22/36/65 buses on there, ESPECIALLY that grand bus that seems to get lost on its way into downtown in the AM

I ride the 156, which was added in the last batch, and I have yet to come across a scenario where Bus Tracker wasn't correct. It's fantastic, and is now part of my daily routine.

Even when it tells me there is no bus coming for 15 minutes at rush hour, this is great information for me, as I could walk a block away and take the 22/36/Red Line instead.

Love the bus tracker...now get the other routes on it too!

Didn't the CTA say there would be new routes added each month? Were any new routes added this month? I think the last batch was in July and have seen no announcement for adding routes between now and the end of the month...

I've always been a fan of this technology, but I do hope that they have an algorithm that is smart enough to improve itself over time. For example, I know of a spot on the #8 route where the predictions are frequently a few minutes too large and another spot where the predictions are consistently too optimistic. Over time, a smart system would notice this and adjust its predictions for those areas -- ideally also taking into account the time of day/week.

"I'd prefer it if the CTA could work on things that benefit everybody, not just the people who can afford fancy cell phones, computers, and internet."

The technology behind Bus Tracker is part of a larger scheduling management program that CTA uses. Customer use is not the only or even the real reason for this system's existence. Even if you can't access it directly, you still benefit from it if bus runs are being adjusted based on the information it provides.

All of you people seem very nice and all, but some of you don't seem to understand why certain routes appear on the tracker before others. First, the 22 and 36 will not be put on the tracker until all of the 4400s and 5800s at North Park Garage are retired (good bet to be early to mid November- surely before Thanksgiving)and this also includes the 11. But the other North Park express routes can be consolidated with 1000s and 7500s, so they may appear earlier.

But in conclusion, its just better to ride buses the old'fashioned way, since not all of us can affored these little electronics and phones with Internet connection.

Um, hello - nearly everybody has a cell phone with some browsing capability (though many seem not to know it) and/or a computer. It's 2008, not 1988.

The great majority of Americans spend plenty of money on unnecesary stuff like cable TV, junk food (not to mention too much food in general), gasoline, and 24/7 air conditioning during the summer. For example, almost 90% of the population pays for cable TV or some such pay TV service. If you can afford cable, you can afford a phone with simple web browsing capabilities.

This is not to say that there are not people who are truly poor and cannot afford the stuff needed to access bus tracker. There are. But that's a relatively small portion of the population using the CTA.

For the vast majority of those using the CTA, they may have other priorities for using their money -- which is fine; it's a free country -- but the idea that bus tracker is "unaffordable" is silly and shouldn't be the basis for disparaging useful innovations in CTA service.

Well, the hard lesson I learned this week is that if I see that it's going to be 20 to 25 minutes before the next southbound 147 arrives in the morning, that's still faster than taking the Red Line. I did that twice this week -- load up the page for my 147 stop, see that there will be four buses in 20 to 30 minutes but none before then, and take the Red Line. I left that page on my phone's browser screen and checked those busses when I got to work; sure enough, all of them had finished their runs and were parked down at the Congress turnabout.

(Weren't the southbound slow zones between Fullerton and Chicago fixed? We crawled, miserably crawled, along that stretch both days. It's astonishing that a bus I had a 20-minute wait for still would have gotten me to work near the Grand stop a full 10 minutes earlier.)

Here's another vote for making the bus tracker accessible by SMS text message.

Did anyone notice that Bus Tracker was offline for a whole lot of Labor Day? Does Tracker's contract state that it gets all federal holidays off? If yes, with or without pay? Which union represents the Tracker?

Would like to use it, but the 66 route is not listed. What gives?

The hospital's at 2900 N. Lake Shore Drive. Diversey runs East-West.

On Milwaukee Ave. heading South, I have to deduct five minutes from Bus Tracker's ETA in order to catch it near the Belmont/Milwaukee intersection. Bus Tracker's not foolproof. At least the CTA is making an effort, though.

I agree with everyone who wishes the trains were also trackable.

Well, the hard lesson I learned this week is that if I see that it's going to be 20 to 25 minutes before the next southbound 147 arrives in the morning, that's still faster than taking the Red Line.

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