TransLink should get on the bus in support of handheld innovations

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


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A new "real time" app from TransLink may help you to avoid missing your next bus

It’s a well known fact that Vancouver City Hall is highly influenced by the powerful cycling lobby. Despite the fact pedestrians are supposedly the City’s number one transportation priority, they rarely get a mention from Mayor Gregor and his crew these days. The other cohort that’s seemingly been left behind at the bus stop over the last 2 ½ years are transit riders. You’d think If anyone would be seen as a key partner in helping to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world, it’s people taking electric powered trolley buses to work and school each day.

I’m hoping that Vancouver politicians can divert their attention away from defending separated bike lanes and tearing down viaducts long enough to focus on a few transit issues. That’s because a very promising new technology is coming before the TransLink Board for approval in about a month or so. Depending on the final tab, I hope it gets the nod. That's why it’s so critical that Metro Vancouver civic leaders get on the bus as soon as possible.

What I’m referring to is a new system being introduced that uses the existing GPS technology to vastly help improve customer service for bus riders. The current GPS system allows TransLink to monitor the exact position of their bus fleet in real time, however customers don’t have access to this same information. The proposed technology would allow for bus riders to find out exactly where their next bus is by simply using an app on their smartphone. How revolutionary!

Just imagine you bolt off the SkyTrain platform and want to catch your bus. You pray that it hasn’t left early and that it’s still there. If installed, this new technology would allow you to check out where your bus is while you’re actually still riding the SkyTrain. It would be a vast improvement on the current system offered by TransLink which merely tells you when the next bus is scheduled to arrive/depart – which we all know on crazy traffic days is not an exact science.

This added benefit is this technology would have a much bigger impact in lower density parts of Metro Vancouver that don’t have high frequency bus service. No longer would you have to wait a half hour at a wet bus stop hoping that your bus arrives before you get totally drenched. In the near future, you could check “live” where your bus is and head out at the appropriate time. What an improvement in customer service...that is if the TransLink Board of Directors approves the expenditure.

A service appropriately named “NextBus” is already being used in a number of cities where there buses are equipped with GPS. Check out this link to the City of Guelph transit where you can track each bus on its route. If Guelph can do this, surely Metro Vancouver can as well.

In about a month or so, TransLink’s Board will decide whether Metro Vancouver will join that growing list of transit regions using technology to vastly improve the customer experience. However, an affirmative vote is by no means guaranteed. As we’ve all read, Metro Vancouver’s transit authority is struggling to make ends meet. Investing in a costly bit of equipment that would help improve customer service might sound like a slam dunk, but it isn’t.

In my opinion, it will take pressure from transit riders and the media to convince the Board that this type of investment is worth their while. That’s why I’m hoping a few Vision councillors will take a few minutes away from promoting the virtues of separated bike lanes and help support this valuable initiative. Once they’ve done that, I’ve got a few projects related to pedestrian safety I’d also like to chat about...but I’ll leave that for another day.

I want to thank the CBC’s Theresa Lalonde (follower her on Twitter @theresalalonde) for doing a great job of covering this story a few weeks ago. Besides the CBC, I’ve yet to see another MSM outlet report on this, but there remains plenty of time.

A special thanks also goes out to Drew Snider who connected me with Cam Telford at TransLink who walked me through what the new GPS bus tracking system will and will not do for customers like myself. [Full disclosure of my conflict of interest...I'm a regular transit user.]

The actual staff report outlining costs and scope of the project have yet to be made public, but you can expect the system won't be cheap. If you’re like me and think it’s a good investment, take a minute to let your TransLink directors know you support it. You can reach them via email at Or send a tweet to @translink stating “I support NextBus like technology as a way of improving customer service. Pls support it”. If enough of us reach out to the politicians and board directors, we stand a chance of getting this approved.

- Post by Daniel


Apologies, if I'm unenlightened, but the major capital expense of this program was the installation of the infrastructure across the system (GPS, updated wireless data transmission lines, etc.). Opening up this data to the public, in one form or another, should be pennies in comparison to the cost of all that hardware.

Paul, I tried to find out how much this was all going to cost but TransLink was unable to tell me prior to the staff report being made public.

I agree that a significant portion of the cost is already built into the GPS equipment, but unsure what the operational side of this will be. I guess we'll all have to stay tuned.

Hydro just did a native app to offer power outage info. Check with them.

We are way behind other cities in this area...translink should not delay in getting this tech in the hands of consumers. Hopefully city wide traffic monitoring is next so that we can see delays in routes and help reduce cars idling in traffic.

Paying with your cell phone and purchasing monthly passes via your cell phone should be next for translink...anything to make transit use quick, easy and hassle free will get more riders onboard

Actually, Mike, it seems to be the media and sites like yours that seem to be fixated on bicycles or at least manufacturing controversy around them. For example, the left turn bays on Knight Street cost more than the separated bike lanes downtown but nary a peep from you or anyone else regarding them.

Transit improvements have been held up while your buddies in the provincial government try and decide how to let TransLink fund them. I suggest you focus your efforts there to get badly needed transit improvements moving forward.

Jason you make a very good point. If I can board a plane using my smart phone, why can't I board a bus? It would be so convenient to buy bus tickets online and use them via my iPhone. What a cool concept!

I love that a post about translink (and a good idea) starts with a completely unrelated comment on cycling. Biased much?

Er, I didn't write this post?

383 comments on Frances Bula's site (which is decidedly pro Vision) in the past week. Sure Richard. It's ONLY citycaucus still talking about the lanes.

Great article by the way Daniel. Can't wait to see if they take up the system. Better informed transit users are more efficient transit users.

boohoo, with all due respect.

The fact that Vision have all but ignored pedestrians and transit users during their term...and used up tonnes of political capital on separated bike lanes is not relevant to this story? Try again my friend.

But glad we agree NextBus is a good initiative.


It's just interesting that you have a post regarding translink and technologies related to bus service and you start the entire thing by taking a pot shot at Vancouver and cycling.

You could delete the first two paragraphs of your post and it would serve the purpose without the needless digs at Vision.

Daniel has stated why it's relevant. For the past 2.5 years Vancouver council has focused on controversial projects like the bike lanes with nary a peep about public transit. Sorry that's incorrect, the only councilor to say anything about transit was Suzanne Anton. Delta is threatening to leave translink. Translink is struggling to find funding. There are serious issues coming for the region, but the mayor of the most influential city is not paying attention. That's why any story about translink should mention Gregor's lack of interest.

Translink has issues, no argument from me on that. But gregor and Vancouver are only one player (gasp!). To pin translink's inaction on gregor is giving him WAY too much credit. Translink is incompetently run by a bunch of unelected fools who know nothing about transportation planning. You want to blog about something that really matters--try that clusterf:) But I know, it's fun to pick on gregor.

WE all agree Nextbus appears to be a terrific idea. One of the 1st principles of transit planning for me has been to eliminate/reduce/facilitate transfers. Allowing users to time their departures will go a long way to achieving those goals.

But, you missed the point Boo. Gregor and his Vision co. are one dimensional on this issue just as they are on virtually everything else. And, they don't even get those right. Their leadership at the Metro and Translink level has been zero.

Vancouver needs more. Vancouverites deserve more.


This is not a Vancouver issue. I know this blog and most of it's readers think the world drops off a cliff at Boundary, but believe it or not it doesn't. Again, you guys give gregor way too much credit here... Stop finding ways to blame him and talk about positive actions moving forward. Like I said, this is a good idea, it's just detracting to frame it in a smear.

My iPhone already does an fairly decent approximation of this. When I'm at a bus stop and call up Google Maps it will tell me when the next bus is scheduled to arrive. I find it's accurate enough. Still, knowing exactly when the bus is coming is not a bad idea, except I think you'll just see more people tempting fate and running across the streets against lights, getting pushy trying to get out of the Skytrain stations in their haste to catch a bus, and similar examples of bad choices brought on by haste and hurry.

For outlying areas, or when there's long delays between buses, it might be of some use, but I note that there are bus stops that already sport this feature on Granville St. Why not expand that service so that it serves everyone, not just those with a mobile phone?

I don't think it's a game-changer in terms of encouraging ridership. Most of us who take the bus would prefer less crowded buses and more frequent service over gizmos. As I say, there's already a reasonable facsimile in place via Google.

To put on the old tin-foil hat for a moment, the security implications of being able to track buses in real time would be cause for concern IMO and there would need to be built-in inaccuracies for obvious reasons.

excellent points Chris...

Actually chris you could have it both ways...any system capable of tracking the buses at each station (which not only makes sense, but is what people have come to expect with other transit systems around the world) but you could easily make that available to smart phone users as well(and a simple HTML page, accessible to anyone with Internet access). You also don't need to physically track the bus via your phone, u simply need accurate arrival times based on gps location. So translinks gps system would know exactly where the bus is and provide consistently updated arrival times based on current position.

None of this is very expensive to implement given they are already tracking the it's not as if doing this is an alternative to more transit...the cost should be minimal.

As far as Gregor goes, he's relevant to the translink debate because he's the head of the largest municipality, and therefore has significant influence on the discussion. As mayor he's provided no new direction or plan around the cities transit, nor done anything to encourage ridership other than add transit as a footnote at the end of any discussion around cycling. For those of you who say it's not his responsibility or that he has no influence should consider homelessness which also has a senior government component...would it be right for him to stay silent in this area as well? No, it wouldn't....he has a responsibility to push the direction and agenda for both.

So, okay, I get it. We should be able to access real time and GPS info for the bus stops. Suddenly I'm wondering doesn't TransLink have an app for that? Oh, wait, they actually do:

Sadly, it leaves us BlackBerry users to have to access Google Maps and they SMS system that they have in place in order to figure out when the next bus is supposed to be coming. I guess we can't win them all, but neglecting a large section of smart phone users isn't good. I already feel like a 3rd class citizen for having a BlackBerry and not an iPhone, but that's another debate all together.

There was a point made earlier about being able to board a plane, but not get bus fare using our phones. We're lagging on that one big time. Other jurisdictions world wide have technology in place that allows you to use your phone to pay for transit. Novel concept, and our buddies at TransLink should consider this. I know I for one would be using this service rather frequently because its so much easier than have to find change to ride the bus.

".....Still, knowing exactly when the bus is coming is not a bad idea, except I think you'll just see more people tempting fate and running across the streets against lights, getting pushy trying to get out of the Skytrain stations in their haste to catch a bus, and similar examples of bad choices brought on by haste and hurry....."

Typical from the bike crusade. They don't want to be told to wear helmets, or license their bikes, but those dang pedestrians are going to cause a whole whack of problems....the bastards.

Is it any wonder why so many loath them so?

I ride the bus at least as much as I bike, esp. in winter when it gets dark too early to cycle with a child in tow.

I find drivers at rush hour take risks on dark, residential streets that make a crowded bus safer for my family than a (usually) pleasant bike commute. It's too bad, I enjoy the fresh air and exercise and saving a few bucks a day adds up.

I wear a helmet.

I just double-checked my wallet. Yep, driver's license still there.


I haven't downloaded the app you linked to yet, but from the reviews it doesn't appear THIS app does what we're discussing. From what I can tell it's just a link to the translink website and gives the scheduled times...based on the reviews it also hasn't been updated since 2008.

Tweeted. And thank you.

Chris you said, "My iPhone already does an fairly decent approximation of this. When I'm at a bus stop and call up Google Maps it will tell me when the next bus is scheduled to arrive. I find it's accurate enough."

But it's not accurate enough, maybe for people who use a route that has lots of buses on it like Broadway. King Edward for example is terrible and it blows me away that as 1 of 3 major crosstown routes its service is ridiculous. It's busy all day long and even later in the evening, yes past 10pm, when amazingly it only runs every 30 mins. During the day you can sometimes stand there for 30 mins and then suddenly 2 buses arrive. For me to travel from east Van on the 25 and transfer to Canada Line to go to central Broadway can sometime be an hour process. I'm not kidding and it's totally unacceptable. Hence I take taxis at about $12 a few times a week to avoid the stress of the whole situation.

Let me guess, the author of this article takes the skytrain and/or bus to work and drives the rest of the time. And never cycles.

Bias, bias, bias.

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