It will soon be a lot easier for any Muni rider with a cellphone to find out when the bus will arrive.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, is in the process of posting unique identification numbers at nearly all of its stops, along with instructions for dialing 511 and entering the stop ID to get arrival times. By posting the numbers, the MTA may be able to save money on work orders from 311, an information line that provides many of the same services as 511, but bills the MTA an average of $1.96 per call. All told, the MTA paid 311 over $6 million this past year.
The signs are posted at just 100 stops now, but the MTA hopes to have
them up at nearly all of its 4,000 stops by mid-summer.
If service cuts go through as planned, knowing when the bus will show up may soon be more a necessity than a convenience for riders, especially during off-peak hours. MTA spokesperson Kristen Holland said the agency hopes to give people more arrival data so they can make informed choices.
Having more information is essential, "especially when you don’t have as frequent headways," said Holland. "More information is better any time, but especially then."
That will give riders options, said Holland.
"If I know it’s going to be a few minutes, I’ll stand and wait. Or, you know what, I think I’d rather walk up and grab this other line," said Holland, describing how riders could use the information. "Giving them information empowers that decision."
Riders can continue to call 311 or 511 even if they don’t know the stop ID number and go through a menu system to get to their stop, but the posted 511 stop IDs should make it much quicker, giving all cell phone owners some of the convenience that iPhone and other smart phone owners already have.
Of course, guiding riders away from the city-owned 311 service and towards the regional 511 number should also have financial benefits for the MTA, since the agency doesn’t get billed for 511 calls.
Muni riders have averaged 4,294 phone inquiries daily to 311 this fiscal year, making up the large majority of the 5,363 average MTA-related 311 calls per day. Muni also has 860 real-time arrival displays at its stops across the city, according to a recent NextMuni maintenance contract.
Will this make your Muni ride any easier? Do you already own an iPhone or other smart phone and use an app to find out when the next bus is coming? Let us know in the comments section below.