Capital Metro, Austin's occasionally decent but oftentimes maligned public transportation service (for examples of maligning, see here, here, and here) has finally done something that has caused me to give them a few kudos.
The backstory to my kudos starts here: during a recent vacation (recounted, with some perspective, here), we used a local transportation service that had a feature that we really liked: by texting a stop ID to a certain number, we could be texted back the next three stop times.
As the loss of the vehicle on that vacation has forced me back onto Cap Metro buses, I thought more than once about how having the ability to get stop times for my particular stop texted to me would be a great asset. And then I thought that there was no way in the world that Cap Metro would do something, you know, that might actually help their riders.
Which shows what I know: Cap Metro is doing exactly what I saw on my vacation. From their blog:
Here’s how it works: every bus stop in the system has a unique ID number. The bus stop at 11th and Guadalupe is #504, for example. With your phone and that ID number, you can:
Text: Text the bus stop ID number to DadnabTM at (512) 981-6221, and receive a reply text with the next scheduled bus arrival times for the buses that serve that stop.
Cap Metro's blog goes on to mention other ways of getting schedules. I did notice that in connection with this new notification, the price of their schedule book ("Destinations") is going up to $3. Whatever.
My main concern with this new texting method is this: is it possible for the times texted back to the waiting rider to be adjusted based on the bus's real-time position? It's all well and good, for example, to know that the #3 stops near my office at 5:29, but when the bus comes 20 minutes late, as it did on Friday afternoon, that information is not going to help me very much. The transportation service that we used on our vacation definitely adjusted its upcoming stop times (I checked).
(Aside: yes, it was indeed 20 minutes late, and I got no explanation when I called Cap Metro's "MetroLine". There was actually another #3 that came by prior to the one that stopped, but the first bus had taken the route number down and wasn't picking anyone else up. So why, at 20 minutes late, were we? We were actually passed by the later #3 bus because we stopped to let everyone on. That doesn't seem right, somehow.)
All in all, this is a good move for Capital Metro, but with some tweaking, it could perhaps be even better.
Update 11/22/11: Apparently Destinations has been $3 for a while now, so nothing is changing there after all.