By John Dorschner
A new, unpublicized GPS app for Miami-Dade Transit is working: (A) Pretty Darn Good, (B) Not So Good and (C) Spot on.
That's three reactions -- two from regular bus commuters and one from my own observations.
The app, working properly (as it already does in many other major cities), could be a huge boost to bus riders by telling them exactly when a bus will show up at their stop -- meaning they can avoid long waits standing in the sun and rain.
"Yes, definitely a big improvement!!" writes Larry Wiggins, who travels by bus weekdays from about 120th and Biscayne Boulevard to 10th and Washington on Miami Beach.
Where's the Promotion?
"I haven't seen any promotion on it though - other that some on Twitter -- and most riders I talk to aren't aware of the tracking via app," Wiggins writes in an email. "Hopefully there are budget funds available to get the word out. I am surprised it hasn't been promoted through the on board audio feed or on the scrolling marquee inside the bus."
Official Launch April 6
Mike Hernandez, spokesman for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said the app is now in a "soft launch. Official launch is scheduled for April 6," when publicity will start rolling out.
Wiggins says there are still some glitches to be worked out: "It works 80 to 90 percent of the time. Occasionally a bus will show up not being tracked, but the times on the tracked buses are good. The only consistent issue that I have noticed is that I take a class at Miami Dade College on Thursdays and get out at 8:30 to 9 pm. For the last several weeks it doesn't seem to be tracking the #3 buses at that time."
"Useless Except for Newcomers"
A bus-rail rider we'll call West Kendall Commuter reports that after a week tracking the app, she has "determined the bus app is useless except for total newcomers to the system or to a particular route.
"I ride the 204 - aka the Killian KAT -- to and from the Dadeland North Metrorail station. When I check westbound travel from the station, the app only shows the scheduled arrival time, not actual. (I've been riding this route [for] years -- I KNOW the schedule!)
"Eastbound is mixed. If there is a vehicle number next to the time, the app seems pretty accurate. If there is no vehicle number, the scheduled time shows. But what if there is a breakdown or the driver calls in sick? I wish there were some kind of notification of that.
"Yesterday morning (Thursday 3/24), the app showed the next bus arrival time with no vehicle number, but in fact, that bus never came. The time passes, and the next scheduled time shows. (That is VERY frustrating. A skipped bus not only means more waiting time, it means the next one is packed on this very popular route.) Do I assume if there is no vehicle number that there will be no bus or is it possible the tracker just isn't working on that vehicle? Either way, it's not going to help or affect me. I'm stranded at Metrorail until a bus comes in the afternoon and there is no place for me to go in the morning to wait for the next one.
"Now, I will say the program to find one's way from location A to location B using public transit is pretty informative. Doesn't mean it's going to be an easy ride, but at least you can see some options for travel. I also use the Miami Trolley app and have found that helpful and fairly accurate," says the West Kendall Commuter.
On Time in Miami Shores
Now my personal experience: This morning, I made a short walk from my home to NE 2nd Avenue in downtown Miami Shores. The app showed that a Route 9 southbound bus was 7 minutes, 41 seconds away. And indeed, at 8:59 a.m., right on time, the 9 showed up.
Note: Going downtown from the Shores I can take either the 9 or the 10, but at present it's laborious and time consuming to switch the app from the 9 to the 10 to find out which will arrive first. Also: Trying to figure out the app, I've had the same experience as Ms West Kendall: If there's a vehicle number, the GPS is working. No vehicle number: It's the scheduled time, which can be pretty meaningless, as most regular bus riders know.
Ideally, the Miami-Dade app will work like the one my son uses in Chicago, which he reports is utterly reliable. One example: Say he's on the Blue Line train heading from O'Hare to the Loop. He needs to get off at some point on the north side and take a bus heading east.
By using the app, he can see that he can get off at, say, Montrose, and wait 10 minutes for a bus, or go on to Irving Park, where one minute after he arrives, a bus will appear to take him on his way.
That's something to shoot for.