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The bus ride that never was

Melissa Chua | March 12, 2009
Estimated arrival times are handy tools, but they can also prove a waste of precious time

The day was Monday and the time, 10.30pm.

I was physically and mentally drained, after a day of work and a buffet dinner with friends.  

All I wanted was to get home, hop into a shower and then to bed, so I could hopefully be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed enough to face Tuesdays challenges.

As I waited at a relatively busy bus-stop for my bus to arrive, I pulled out my mobile, and, out of habit, sent off a text message that would tell me my estimated waiting time.

10 minutes, the response message read.  Not the best of scenarios, but certainly not the worst. Or so I thought.

I spent the next 15 minutes chatting on Windows Live Messenger using my cell, until I got to wondering why the bus hadnt yet arrived. Meanwhile, some of the other bus services had had two, or even three, vehicles ply the bus-stop.

Off went the second text message. The response: I would have to wait a further 15 minutes.

I was annoyed, to say the least. It looked like I would have had to wait 25 minutes for my bus to arrive, if the arrival prediction was anything to go by. Close to half an hour just for a bus ride that would have taken no more than 10 minutes.

Thinking perhaps the system had malfunctioned somewhere, I waited 10 minutes more. No bus.

Getting frustrated

I was getting increasingly frustrated by this time, and hopped into the first cab that came along. In the cab, I sent yet another text message off, just for the heck of it. The estimated arrival time still stood at further 15 minutes.

I cursed myself for waiting like a fool, as the cabbie said philosophically that buses would sometimes cruise slowly on purpose, so the drivers would not be penalised for speeding.

The cab got me home in seven minutes. I could have been home a full half hour earlier, if the bus arrival information system had not proved so inaccurate. If Id had any inkling the bus would take half an hour to arrive, I would have taken a cab straight away.

From what I know, the feeds commuters get on the estimated bus arrival times are currently provided by the bus companies themselves, namely SBS Transit and SMRT.  An IT executive from Land Transport Authority (LTA) told me that the transport providers probably work with less efficient traffic prediction algorithms, compared to those used by the LTA to predict traffic patterns island-wide.

The LTA is currently looking at letting transport providers utilise its own traffic prediction algorithms, in a bid to provide commuters with more accurate bus arrival times.  This forms part of the LTAs vision to promote the use of public transport in Singapore.


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