The most exciting part of my morning is catching my bus, specifically, making the transfer

Note: Transit nerd content. You have been warned.

I still rely on One Bus Away to tell me when my bus is coming. Recent changes in bus service means that there is no longer a direct bus from my neighborhood to my work. My basic options are as follows:

  • Walk 3 minutes to Stop A (my neighborhood stop), catch Bus 1 (comes every 30 minutes), ride for 11 minutes, get off at Stop X, then walk 15 minutes to work.
  • Walk 7 minutes to Stop B, where I can
    • catch Bus 2 (comes every 10 minutes),
      • ride 7 minutes, get off at Stop X, then walk 15 minutes to work.
      • ride 13 minutes, get off at Stop Y, then walk 8 minutes to work.
    • catch Bus 3 (comes every 5 minutes), ride 9 minutes, get off at Stop Z, then walk 12 minutes to work.
Start walk: 3 minutes Stop A Bus 1 11 minutes Stop X walk: 15 minutes Finish
walk: 7 minutes Stop B Bus 2 7 minutes
13 minutes Stop Y walk: 8 minutes
Bus 3 9 minutes Stop Z walk: 12 minutes
prep: 2 minutes ride bicycle: 25 minutes park: 2 minutes

If you sit and work out the math, the total travel time for all the options is about the same, around 29 minutes. Which is about the same time it takes me to ride my bicycle, so it basically doesn't matter which route I take, especially since traffic lights randomize the travel time by a few minutes each way. But the paradox of choice means that I still try to optimize something that is basically irrelevant. (I'll spare you the calculations that went into choosing which bike route to use!)

Anyway, my morning commute-decision algorithm is:

  • Do I want to ride my bicycle? If so, then ride. (This is the most common branch.)
  • Else, is Bus 1 coming soon? If so, then go to Stop A.
  • Else, walk to Stop B and take whichever bus comes next (usually Bus 3).

The excitement is the Stop X extension.

I recently discovered that there's another route, Bus 4, which runs parallel to buses 1 and 2 for a stretch (for stops V, W, and X), and which then veers away and drops me off in front of my building. If I'm on Bus 1 or Bus 2, I can check on the status of Bus 4, and if it's only a few minutes behind the bus that I'm on, then some new options become available.

The high-risk option is to transfer at Stop V. This is a high-risk move because if I don't time it right, I end up having to wait for the next Bus 2 to resume my commute.

The next safer option is to transfer at Stop W, which is only twenty minutes of walking from my office. (Update: Bus 2 does not stop at W.)

The safest option is to transfer at Stop X, since the only downside is that I do the normal amount of walking anyway. But this has a higher risk of missing the connection because I have to cross the street to get from one bus stop to the other, and it's a busy street, so I may have to wait a long time before I get the Walk signal.

When one of these higher-risk moves comes into play, I will use Realtime Transit, which plots the locations of the buses on a map, so I can decide whether I feel lucky today, punk.

Last Friday was my first opportunity to try out the Stop X extension, and it was a nail-biter, because the bus locations in the Realtime Transit application were inconsistent. Sometimes, Bus 4 would show up a bit too close for comfort (it might end up passing my bus because my bus stops more often), and then sometimes it would show up miles and miles away.

Stop V was too risky. If the nearby bus was just a mirage, then I got off a perfectly good bus and stranded myself. As we neared Stop W, I looked out the back window of the bus and didn't see a Bus 4 in the distance, so I decided to go for the safe approach and get off at Stop X.

As I waited for the traffic light to change, I saw Bus 4 go zooming past.

One of the days, I will actually succeed at making the Stop X extension.

Comments (36)
  1. nathan_works says:

    this is totally off-topic, but I didn't see a Raymond's arbitrary NCAA bracket picks this year… Is that in the queue ?

    [By the time I realized that the brackets were out, the tournament had already started… -Raymond]
  2. Danny says:

    And since there is no nitpicker corner I can safely do so. Seems Microsoft did the same as you when they went to Vista, they went to stop V and lost it, now, with W7, and let's hope, with W8, they move back to a safer Stop.

    [The absense of a nitpicker's corner does not mean that nitpicking is permitted. -Raymond]
  3. JM says:

    You know, they should totally replace those hackneyed Towers of Hanoi and container puzzles you can find in adventure games and RPGs with the far more exciting bus transit puzzles. There's even a real-time component involved when switching buses for all those twitch reflex fans (though no doubt complaints will be raised that this dumbs the game down, though not as much as replacing them with bicycle rides).

    Bonus background music for the thrilling action sequences:

  4. deiruch says:

    Anyone else looking for matching socks using hash join? I use a two-dimensional hash function: Pattern and color of each sock and arrange all socks into a grid. Whenever I place a second sock into a cell I've found two matching socks.

    And I'm incredibly proud of my algorithm skills. Every. Single. Time.

  5. Joshua Ganes says:

    Oy! As you said, all of this thought is put into something which is largely irrelevant. Instead of worrying about timing, why not just take the route with the largest walking time to stay on top of your daily exercise? I assume this is why you normally take your bicycle.

  6. voo says:

    @deiruch Horribly complex algorithm. I've a much simpler that works perfectly as well:

    1. Buy only black socks without pattern


  7. Not Norman Diamond says:

    Serious question: Do you ride your bicycle in your suit, or do you change once you get to the office?

  8. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I prefer to optimize for variance — I'll take a route that might have a slightly longer expected time (e.g. walk a little farther) if the likelihood of being considerably later (i.e. barely missing the bus) is much lower.

  9. Chad says:

    Is Stop W an easy transfer? Even if Bus 4 zooms by (which is unlikely given the combo of the realtime app and the look-over-your-shoulder technique), another Bus 1 or 2 should come soon.

    Also is the inconsistency with the waiting time for bus 4 or is the real time app itself inconsistent (misrepresenting the actual location of buses)?

    [The real-time app was being inconsistent. And bus 2 doesn't stop at W. -Raymond]
  10. prunoki says:

    Not Norman Diamond: why would he work in a suit? He is not sitting in a booth handling customers, does he?

  11. Karellen says:

    @Joshua Ganes: I assumed that the main reason for "Do I want to ride my bicycle?" being "no" is "Because the weather is awful", which would therefore likely indicate /minimising/ walking time.

    [Bingo. -Raymond]
  12. Ooh says:

    @prunoki: Because Raymond is known to wear suits at work. He just likes them, so why shouldn't he wear one all day?

  13. Mason Wheeler says:

    A system to track buses in real-time on your smartphone? I've been wondering when someone was going to come up with one of those. Do they have it for Community Transit (up here in Snohomish County) yet? Or is it just for King County Metro?

    [One Bus Away supports Community Transit too. -Raymond]
  14. Walker says:

    It must be nice having so many commute options!

  15. Tom says:

    Get a horse.

  16. Joshua says:

    You, my friend, would benefit from learning how to control the tesseract.

  17. None says:

    I do the same with my commute, though I have much less flexibility (and they also removed my neighborhood bus to work).  There aren't any real choices I have to make, so once I start out, my trip is fixed.

    The only real-time data I use is to determine how soon I have to start running in the morning to beat the bus to the stop.

  18. Mason Wheeler says:

    @Joshua: You, sir, win the Internet today.

  19. dnm says:

    My wife uses the Stop X extension more often than not…Thanks to one bus away.

  20. Mike says:

    Unless there is a huge difference I don't even bother looking at the schedules. I show up at a bus stop ~5 min before it is due assuming I know. Otherwise I sit and wait. I bring my Kindle with me and more wait just means more reading gets done. I purposely refuse to schedule means first thing in the morning for this reason I can be in work +- 30min and I don't want to have to come in a half hour early just so I can be sure to make a meeting so …

  21. The absense of a nitpicker's corner

    Absense? Is that an education program for stomach muscles?

  22. Alexander says:

    Only on an IT blog you can see such a posting PLUS twenty-two actual comments ;)

  23. Evan says:

    I also missed your NCAA bracket. Oh well.

    Anyway, I also have a similar high-risk transfer that I'll do sometimes. I'm too cheap to get a data plan with my cell phone though, so I just have to go off the time. Fortunately, it's a stop that's hit a few minutes after leaving the transfer points where busses wait until on the hour or half hour to leave, so it will basically never come *early*.

  24. Sugendran says:

    Why does this feel like an interview question about set theory…

  25. Larry Hosken says:

    I'm not sure if I understand everything I've read on the topic, but I'm pretty sure that quantum commuting allows you to simultaneously ride all of these buses and then collapse a waveform to retroactively choose the fastest or something.

  26. Mark says:

    Quantum commuting, huh?  That sounds awesome!

  27. ask says:

    You aren't a 'gas guzzler' like the rest. Congratulations. Using bicycle or bus to work helps our planet.

  28. Neil says:

    I don't think I get it. (And it took me so long to think about it that the blog software ate my first comment.)

    If you're on bus 1, then you have to get off at stop X anyway, so you might as well cross to stop X' just in case a bus 4 happens to be due soon.

    If you're on bus 2, then you probably want to get off at stop Y, but you could consider getting off at stop V and taking whichever bus passes first. However you don't seem to have mentioned the frequency of bus 4, so I can't judge how helpful that would be.

    [The catch is that if bus 4 is right behind, then getting off at X will cause me to miss it, because it's a busy street, and crossing it takes several minutes. That's what happened in the story: I got off at X two minutes ahead of bus 4, but it took me 3 minutes to get the Walk light. (Bus 4 comes only every half hour, so a repeat doesn't factor into the calculations.) -Raymond]
  29. Joshua says:

    It appears that Simon R has re-discovered the tertiary colors.

  30. Joe says:

    Absense? Is that an education program for stomach muscles?

    No, it's how someone without a lisp pronounces "absinthe".

  31. Simon R says:

    @Voo. The black socks approach doesn't work. I tried it many years ago. Trouble is, socks come in different shades of black. Trying to match up socks when you have to look carefully to tell which ones have exactly matching shades is much harder than distinguishing – say – pink from yellow.  Even worse, if you make mistakes so one sock gets worn without its matching partner, that sock gets washed a different number of times from its partner, then natural fading with washing means you now have two single socks neither of which match *anything*.

    Much easier to make sure every pair of socks is drastically different from every other pair of socks you buy.

    (You could never tell this is a place geeks hang out, could you)

  32. DWalker says:

    When I lived in San Francisco, I observed city transit buses for the first time.  I realized that when there two buses that are servicing the same route, pretty close together, there is a problem:  Close buses tend to get closer.

    The first bus might pick up all passengers waiting for that route, so the second bus doesn't see anyone waiting to get on, so it doesn't stop (if there's also no one waiting to get off there).  So it is eventually directly behind another bus for the same route… unless the drivers do something to fix the timing (the second bus could wait a while, but that will annoy any passengers it might have).

    This happens mostly with buses on a high-frequency commute route.  San Francisco scheduled some buses every two minutes on California street during rush hour, I think.

  33. @DWalker this is a pivotal plot point in Alfred Hitchcock's 1966 movie Torn Curtain (but in East Germany, not in San Francisco :-)

  34. DWalker says:

    @Maurits: I'll have to watch that, then.  I have never seen that movie.

  35. [One Bus Away supports Community Transit too. -Raymond]

    Yes, for certain values of "support." OBA has no real-time tracking data for CT. And it won't until CT puts in GPS tracking on their buses, which (given that they have been cutting service by >= 20% per year for at least 2 years) may never happen.

  36. 640k says:

    It's the bus driver's union which prevents gps reporting position of the buses.

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content