Transit users can now text for ‘real-time’ bus schedules

Winnipeg Transit has launched a new system that allows transit users to text for “real-time” bus schedules.

Introduced on Feb. 10, the new system, called BUStxt, allows riders to text 287898, or “bustxt,” to find transit stops nearest them, bus departure time at stops or find out when a bus they are currently riding will reach a certain location further on down the route.

According to Tammy Melesko, communications officer for the City of Winnipeg, all bus times are given in real time.

“Because it’s tracked by GPS, [BUStxt] will estimate approximately how long it’s going to take from where the bus is located, when that text is sent,” said Melesko.

“Say if the bus was running four minutes late, it would actually tell you [ . . . ] when it’s exactly coming to that stop. Whereas if you look on a schedule, it’s going to give you what the [scheduled] time is, this [text system] will actually tell you [ . . . ] the real-time information.”

In order for BUStxt to work properly, Melesko said that users have to learn the proper lingo and ensure they give as much information as possible in the available 136 characters. This could include either the five-digit stop ID number, or the stop intersection where they are.

“Part of the education of using it is getting the lingo down. Like in anything, especially with text messaging, you have to really learn the lingo, and how to write it so that it comes back correctly, because if you don’t do it so that it understands it, it will actually send a help message back [ . . . ],” said Melesko.

“For example, if you’re going southbound, northbound, eastbound or westbound, indicate what direction you’re heading. And if you can indicate the street [intersection] that you’re on, that’s helpful too. The more information that you have, that’s great,” she said.

According to Meleseko, once a text is sent, the user usually receives a return text in only a few seconds.

“Usually when it comes back [ . . . ] it’s within about five or 10 seconds. It’s very quick.”

With BUStxt being around for only a couple of weeks, Melesko said that Winnipeg Transit is currently conducting an awareness campaign on local radio stations.

Some students at the University of Manitoba were not aware of the new system until approached by the Manitoban.

Michael Gooch, a faculty of arts student, said, “I’ve never heard of it. I just normally use my phone and call to see when the bus is coming.”

Faculty of nursing student Jocelyn Grenier has not used BUStxt, but thinks the system sounds like a smart idea.

“I wasn’t sure what the number was [to text], but it is a good idea because no one likes to hear that annoying machine voice when you call Telebus.”

Melesko said BUStext was developed at a minimal cost.

“[As] Transit’s IT department developed the technology in-house by staff programmers and it was incorporated with the development of other IT projects, the cost of developing BUStxt was minimal.”

Melesko said that BUStxt is available for all Winnipeg Transit routes and standard text messaging rates apply depending on the individual’s cellular service plan.

— With files from Ashley Gaboury.