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Google Maps Tell You When The Bus Is Coming

— San Diego’s transit agency, the MTS, is giving out real-time information via web and cell phone so you know when the bus is coming, even when it’s late. MTS has partnered with Google Maps to make the data available online.

Buses often run late because they get stuck in traffic or stuck behind red lights. Local transit agencies are trying to solve the perennial problem by slowly phasing in rapid bus lines. Those cutting-edge alternatives use dedicated lanes – and technology to favor buses at stoplights – to make them stay on schedule.

But until they become common there will be lots of passengers waiting at bus shelters and glaring at their watches as they wait for a bus they know should have arrived 20 minutes ago. This is where the Google Maps feature comes in. At least it lets you know when the bus will actually arrive.

Google today announced they were providing the real-time data to eight transit authorities; six in the U.S. and two in Europe. To use it in San Diego, go to maps.google.com and find your bus stop by entering an address or zeroing in with mouse clicks. Click on the bus stop, shown as a blue icon, to get bus departure times. Times written in bold type are actual departure times, as opposed to scheduled departures.

If you have a cell phone and you’re at a bus stop, you can send a text to Go MTS (46687) with the bus stop’s ID number and you’ll get a return text with actual arrival and departure times.

The system works but there are some missing pieces. I tried to get actual departure times for the SDSU transit center, but could only get scheduled times. An MTS spokesman told me that’s because the transit center is an origination point, and the system only works for stops where the bus is underway.

Some information is still missing from Google Maps. Not all bus lines are listed where they are supposed to be. Devin Braun, from the MTS, also told me only half of their 537 buses have GPS systems to provide the real-time arrival info. And not all bus stops have decals to show the stop’s ID number, which you need to use the smart-phone option.

But it’s a start. Martha Welsh, an enthusiastic development manger at Google, told me she was “thrilled” to announce the news of live transit updates for San Diego. Let’s hope that’s also good news to angry transit patrons who spend their time staring at the horizon in hopes of seeing an approaching bus.

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