Well, just as I predicted Metro Transit has raised its fare and told us what it is blowing it on: NexTrip, the Laser Disc of today. The cost is $12 million semolians for a Satellite GPS system according to a Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) story on August 14, 2008. Another case of "Intelligent Transit" meaning no actual transit for the public in a continuing disturbing pattern of Metro Transit mismanagement.
You remember the laser disc of the last century, right? You could get a digital player for movies and stuff that would play a disc the diameter of a Hummer's hubcap in a player that only cost about $3,000 President Carter era dollars. All the cool kids had them. Now they are called "DVD players" and cost $29 at Walmart and you can get the little palm sized DVD discs at the tanning-booth-gas station-video-rental place on the corner for a post-Iraq $2 or at the library for free. So the question is why does my brother-in-law have a GPS device for $100 and it cost Metro Transit $12 million?
This is another case of buying the expensive tech too soon, like the GoTo RFID card that does not work very well. Metro Transit has a disturbing pattern of buying bunk technology and not delivering actual transit service. Actual transit service means putting butts in the seats and getting people to real destinations, not into cyberspace. It is likely a manifestation of "conservative government syndrome", just make transit (or any other public service) not work with incompetence or malice to demonstrate the public services are a waste of tax money.
Instead of having a big schedule stuck on the side of the bus stop and a route map the size of the 3 foot X 5 foot Captain Morgan Rum advertisement on the bus shelter, Metro Transit of Minneapolis - St. Paul will have an LED screen to tell you when the next bus is coming using satellite GPS. Would an LED screen will last more than one day at most bus shelters? That is a $12 million usability blow out. They would get more good careful attention driving the bus routes in top open Cadillac convertibles filled with $10 bills blowing out the back. To put that in perspective it is about 30+ regular sized 40 passenger buses not bought. What is more useful, more transit on the ground or broken LED screens to not tell you that the cut back bus service on your route will not come today?
Or you can easily use your Blackberry or somehow your cell phone, traverse a website or a phone tree (with plenty of advertising sandwiched in no doubt,) and if you already have the number on speed dial or can afford the cell phone internet fee you could find when a bus is coming after 5 or 6 minutes of poking at little keys on your little micro hand held device. Real handy, I would guess the current number of users per day I could count on my fingers, maybe add the pinky toe on one foot.
Now there are some benefits to blowing the $12 million, they may be able to track real time where routes fall behind, yet with the financial deficits they create from buying tech too early resources for solutions will be non-existent for the problems found. I can see it now, a four inch snowfall puts the realtime GPS system in chaos with dozens of late and full routes but the only 3 "reserve" buses can't leave the terminal because there is no snow removal budget and they are plowed in by the city.
Oh, yeah, now they can do "Google Transit" on the internet which is better than the awful transit route finder Metro Transit had but $12 million is a lot for a web site that is not used that much. When most people need information about transit they are in transit on the street or rail station, that is why rail modes have good maps in the stations and on the train cars. Again, I raise a basic point in many of my transit articles: Why are bus based systems so far behind the basic usability level of train modes when train systems have shown how to do it with proper transit stops, maps and schedules for many decades.
Well, how about hire one person to make large maps and schedules using some newfangled technology called "desktop publishing". As part of the regular maintenance on the bus shelters post large route maps on the side of bus shelters with the schedules in large font. Also post large route maps inside the buses, just like trains. A test of the usability of large maps on a couple routes would be very cheap to verify designs and implementation. Gee, then people would know when the bus would come, what routes intersect, where intersecting routes go and how to navigate the transit network. Maps would cost just a few percent of the $12 million bucks and maybe there would be enough left over to add some transit service so people will be able to actually use the transit system now that they know where it goes. An LED screen just tells you the bus is not here yet, it does not tell where it goes, what other routes intersect or the full schedule.
How many people will figure out how to get a bus when there are large route maps and large schedules stuck on the side of a bus shelter vs. using a Blackberry or navigating a phone tree off in the ether? I would hazard a $12 million buck bet on one of the options, which one would you pick?
Transit Usability Articles