We've Got Bad News About Bus Trackers

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The whole point of technology is to make things easier on us, particularly if it relates to a need or a task we encounter every day. If you rely on public transit, knowing how to time your trip to the station or stop can make the difference between an unplanned late start or an on-time arrival. Catching a bus got even more convenient when apps introduced a way to track your ride, but as you probably know, those real-time updates can be more of a problem than we'd hope.

Geographers at Ohio State University wanted to find out how reliable overall these transit trackers made our commutes. They've just published a paper detailing their findings, and we all might have to change how we schedule our bus-catching habits. People who relied on arrival times from an app were likely to miss that bus about three-quarters of the time, and their wait times for the next bus were about three times longer than if they'd simply used the route's posted schedule.

"We're not saying that real-time bus information is bad. It is reassuring to know that a bus is coming," said study coauthor Harvey Miller. "But if you're going to use these apps, you have to know how to use them."

What Miller means is that rather than take a transit app's posted arrival time as gospel, riders should add in an "insurance buffer" and leave a few minutes early, just in case. That only added 30 seconds' wait to using the route schedule, which only left riders with a 6 percent chance of missing their bus. It may be a hassle, but better safe than sorry.