Metro Transit’s NexTrip service — by text, by app or online — has been getting a lot of use lately, particularly during the recent cold snap as transit users anxiously checked the status of their buses and trains.

Between Monday and Wednesday last week, riders used the Show My Bus feature, displaying real-time bus and train locations on a map, more than 19,000 times. That was up about 36 percent compared to the same three-day period the previous week. “It’s perfect for conditions like this,” said Ben Rajkowski, Metro Transit’s assistant manager of transit information, when he spoke to the Drive last week on the most bitter of the below-zero days. “Riders can maximize their time waiting inside. Seeing their bus is coming is a great reassurance.”

Most NexTrip users log on to Metro Transit’s website or call its automated phone line to plan trips, check schedules and get departure information.

Passengers texted for information 2.6 million times last year, a 75 percent increase over 2017. Thousands texted their stop number to Metro Transit and received schedules on their phones. Rajkowski attributes the increase in texts to instructions posted at bus stops.

The Show My Bus feature was used more than 1 million times last year. “Riders are using it more and more,” Rajkowski said. “They are getting more familiar with it and can plan trips according to what is on their screens.”

The free service also has information for suburban transit systems, including Maple Grove Transit, SouthWest Transit, Plymouth Metrolink and the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority.

Of course, NexTrip is not perfect, and riders over the years have aired their gripes to the Drive in e-mails and on social media, such as this one: “Dear @MetroTransitMN why are your NexTrip listings so unreliable?,” Twitter user @NSBPainting asked Friday. “Wb 94, shown due in 2 min … but then no-shows. Not the first time, but def the coldest time to get stuck waiting an extra 15. Do better.”

The agency plans to do that by launching a pilot this spring to improve NexTrip accuracy and reliability, Rajkowski said. Every train and bus has an onboard computer that records its GPS location. As vehicles move, NexTrip tracks their location in relation to specific time-points and uses an algorithm to predict expected arrival times. It updates every few seconds.

But the algorithm doesn’t always have everything it needs. Say in normal conditions it takes a Route 32 bus five minutes to get from Penn and Lowry avenues N. to its next check-in point at Fremont Avenue. NexTrip tells riders waiting at Fremont their bus will come in five minutes. If there is a fire, a crash or a storm causing travel delays, that is not factored in. A retooled algorithm would take into account how long it has taken the most recent buses to make the trip.

“If we know that the last three buses have taken 10 minutes, we can build that into the prediction time,” Rajkowski said.

 

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