Where’s My Car?

Today, the TTC unveiled the next step in its customer information services with the ability to obtain next vehicle information via an SMS text message from any cell phone.

The cell phone “short code” for this service is 898882 (txtttc), and all stops for which this service is available now have stickers showing their individual codes prominently.  The reponse that will come back looks like this:

505 E 3min / 505 E 3min / 504 E 4min / 505 E 4min / 504 E 6min / 504 E 7min. Predictions generated as of 14:54.

This happens to be for the northbound stop on Broadview at Withrow for my return home after today’s press announcement across the street in Riverdale Park.  The message does not include location info because you would already know this from making the request in the first place.

The list shows the next predicted vehicles at the stop.  For stops served by multiple routes where you are only interested in a specific route, you can append the route number to the stop number as in:

12345 504

where “12345” is the stop number and “504” is the route number.  This can be further qualified with a direction (N, S, E or W) although few stops have cars for the same route travelling in more than one direction.

An as-yet unadvertised service is the ability to retrieve information for any stop using a route, direction and stop name lookup from NextBus.  Once you reach a display you want, you can bookmark it for direct access.  Even if you want to look up a different location, it is faster to pick any bookmarked lookup you already have, and then select an alternate location.  These displays auto-update.  (The link given here takes you directly to the TTC route selection page.)

At some point, the TTC will create a page on their own site where you can look up stop-based info using the stop number, or navigate to NextBus for the more general selection menu.

Finally, I hope that the TTC will agree to expose the NextBus maps to public view again soon.  There have been internal debates about the way these maps show how, at times, the service is not well-organized, but this information is very useful in cases where someone wants to get a general idea of the state of a route for use in the near future without having to look up service “now” at a specific stop.

26 thoughts on “Where’s My Car?

  1. Watching CP24, it’s interesting that the number (898882) is seems to be getting more promotion more than the “txtttc” equivalent. I guess the former easier to say out loud, even if the latter is easier to remember.

    One issue with NextBus last time I used it on my iPhone was that when you browse for a route (rather then accepting one of the nearby stop initially presented based on GPS), you are thrown way up to a list of transit authorities from across North America instead of just one level up (to the TTC) based on the geolocation they’ve just performed. Other than that, I have found that it works well enough that I rarely use any of the various other TTC-related iPhone apps unless I am out in “bus land”. When will they start promoting this widely? I know smartphone users aren’t a large majority of TTC riders, but why not promote it and at least get some credit?


  2. Mobile users should check out http://www.nextbus.com/webkit, too. On my iPhone it will use the phone’s GPS to locate the stops nearest to you and give you data on arriving cars. Very cool.

    Not sure if it works on Android phones. I’d think based on the URL it might work in any browser that uses the WebKit engine, but I have no other devices to check with.


  3. From the Press Release: “Also this summer, the TTC will announce plans to share data with Google.”

    Finally! Hopefully this will work well with GO and YRT using the same service – the beginnings of a regional trip planner without Metrolinx getting in the way.

    Will the TTC finally explain why they spent all that money developing an internal trip planner when they could have done this in the first place?


  4. Though one shouldn’t have to and these maps should be made publicly available, couldn’t one of those web-savvy folks out there create maps that automatically poll the NextBus info and generate based on that?

    It would definitely put myttc.ca another step above official TTC pages were they to add such functionality.

    Steve: Why should web-savvy folks have to do this when the capability is sitting there in the NextBus software? You can look at any route in San Francisco today! The problem is with TTC management who, for years, have hidden behind a plethora of excuses about service quality.


  5. Is the nextbus map/site based on schedule or on GPS like the txtttc?

    Steve: NextBus is the source of the maps and txtttc info. The input data is GPS real time feeds from vehicles.


  6. I got wind of the announcement on Twitter and then went looking for the map, which I thought was the most useful way of looking at the data with a web browser. As I recall you could use your mouse to bring up arrival times for each stop.

    Moreover, any journey involving a transfer is far easier to judge on a map. If your transfer stop shows vehicles coming in 11, 12, and 30 minutes you have to know how long it takes your first route to get there, but on a map you could eyeball it. Journey times between two spots on a TTC route have always been frustratingly difficult to infer. Publishing GO Transit style schedules (ie, by trip) or a NextBus map would help.


  7. Seems a bit old-fashioned to be worrying about texting timetable information when you can just go the webpage for that stop. At my stop, I do it 3 or 4 times sometimes waiting for a streetcar, because when they are 2 minute or 1 minute away, they suddenly vanish having been short-turned … so if 2 minutes change to 20 minutes, it’s time to start walking.

    It’s probably asking too much that they computer retext you if your streetcar vanishes before it gets to you …

    Steve: Yes, I find that the website is much more useful because you can monitor changes in status including the effect of short turns. However, many people have phones that only do text, not web services.


  8. Does anyone know for my stop, at Wolfrey and Broadview whether cars going southbound that time includes the layover from the station or not?

    Steve: Wolfrey is close enough to Danforth that times for the stop include an estimate of how long the cars sitting at Broadview will actually stay there. I see the same sort of effect for the stop at Danforth where times may be adjusted to deal with longer than expected layovers.


  9. Hopefully, they will think through the technology for this better than they did for Timeline.


  10. On Thursday afternoon, Admiral Adam was on the John Tory show on Newstalk 1010 and in his description of how this might be useful, he described someone arriving at a transfer point and being able to find out if the next bus or streetcar might be 3 minutes or 20 minutes away.

    He said that if one were to know that it might be 20 minutes away, they might want to run into a shop to buy a coffee.

    Doesn’t the good Admiral know that this is technically a violation of the “no stop over” rule of their transfers?!? According to a TTC operator I know, if someone boards the vehicle holding a food item or drink that appears to have been purchased at an outlet at the intersection, they are not supposed to accept a transfer. IMHO, I don’t see the difference between someone grabbing a coffee or burger at an intersection of surface routes as being any different from doing the same at a vendor in the fare paid area of a subway station, but rules are rules. The TTC really needs to adopt the time-expiry transfer!


  11. J says: ‘From the Press Release: “Also this summer, the TTC will announce plans to share data with Google.”’
    Umm.. surely that press release announces the plans???

    Also, I don’t want to know about plans, I want to know *when*.


  12. Now what would be useful would be for the TTC to include this information on its web site. If I go to the schedule page for the Carlton streetcar, it tells me the next three scheduled arrival times, whereas we now have the ability through NextBus to find out the actual next three arrival times. Or, at a minimum, the stop number in the second column should link to the NextBus arrival time page for that stop.

    Steve: I believe that this is the eventual aim, but like so much the TTC does, I despair that the last bits and pieces will be finished off. It may be that NextBus does not yet have a webpage configured to receive an incoming hotlink with a parameter including the stop number. It’s an obvious thing to do. However, “obvious” and “TTC” do not always occupy the same page.


  13. Steve wrote, “…but like so much the TTC does, I despair that the last bits and pieces will be finished off.”

    When we built our home, someone I knew that was close to someone who had done it before warned me: Do not move in before baseboards are installed, otherwise they never will be.

    The TTC often seems to be a baseboard-less home! 😉


  14. I find it interesting that TTC are paranoid about Presto being obsoleted while deploying SMS which, let’s face it, is a technology on the downward slope given the massive switch by the public towards IP capable phones. Yes, my old Nokia phone would not get next stop information, but the answer is not SMS but rather a city-wide 802.11 network so I could use my WiFi equipped music player instead, or an e-book reader similarly equipped, etc.

    TTC stop poles could become smartpoles, with a solar/battery combo housing a HSPA-linked Access Point which could be outsourced to the same people deploying service in the subway system, however the routers could be locked to only displaying TTC/Metrolinx/City of Toronto sites to minimise bandwidth costs.


  15. Some stops missing. Route 505 wb at Bathurst for 1. Tried it last night leaving the hospital and system says stop does not exist. Does not even show on nextbus website.


  16. You are limited to 10 requests per 12 hour period. Let’s hope for the best for the 11th streetcar you are waiting for.


  17. Yesterday I decided to use the “Contact Us” button on the NextBus site and asked them where the maps had gone to and when they would return. I got this interesting response from NextBus.

    Please send such complaints to the TTC so that they know how the lack of maps affects the usability of the system.

    Steve: NextBus is being diplomatically silent on this sort of thing because TTC is a client, and any changes to functionality should arise as a client request.


  18. You are limited to 10 requests per 12 hour period. Let’s hope for the best for the 11th streetcar you are waiting for.

    I was going to point this out so that people didn’t think the TTC had stopped being stupid.

    I mean, I can understand a limit, sure, to avoid people trying to bring down the system, but 10 requests in 12 hours? That’s ridiculous!

    Steve: When you use the web interface, it auto-refreshes until you stop it, with no limit. I suspect that the limit on SMS has to do with the volume of messages TTC has contracted for with their carrier.


  19. The vandalism has already begun. Overnight some twit used a heavy black marker to obscure the stop number on many poles along Carlton. Oddly the TTC doesn’t seem to be interested in anti-graffiti/scratchiti coatings on its signs, facilities or equipment.

    The stop numbers may be found on the route pages of the TTC’s web site.

    Steve: I was amused to see a route diversion notice at King and Jarvis tied around the eastbound stop pole in a manner that obscured the stop number.


  20. “Please send such complaints to the TTC so that they know how the lack of maps affects the usability of the system.”

    Has anyone submitted an FOI request to the TTC seeking the reasons for the removal of the maps?


  21. At least when they expand the system onto all routes, we will be able to decide whether or not to wait at the stop or do a stop-over. Even if stop-overs are technically illegal, as stated on the transfers. But I would rather get into an air-conditioned convenience store or coffee shop, and browse (maybe buy a coffee), than wait in the heat for the next non-air-conditioned streetcar.

    Another reason for the 2-hour transfer.


  22. The first location I tried was Carlton and Church — one of the stops somebody decided to deface. I decided to text the remaining numbers and got no reply.
    Then I tried the code at Carlton and Yonge — no reply. Just turned on my phone today and the responses had come it around 10pm. I sent the requests at 6pm.
    Resent the Yonge request and it came back within seconds.

    And thanks to the comment above, I checked ttc.ca and the schedule page for the 506. Extrapolating, I can figure out Church’s number although it is not listed on the site. I plan to store these in my contacts list. (I use a ‘dumb’ phone … which works fine for me.)

    Now, I wonder how long until there is an app helping someone locate a stop number without going online having or to actually be at the stop.

    PS: Steve, the layout of your site on my old browser is way off. The text is displaying in dark grey on a green background, in a column to the right of a great expanse of white.

    Steve: Be sure to clear your cache by using a forced refresh in your browser. You may have old versions of things like style sheets.

    This site works properly in IE8, Safari (Mac and Windows), Firefox and Chrome.


  23. @ Ed, who posted “And thanks to the comment above, I checked ttc.ca and the schedule page for the 506. Extrapolating, I can figure out Church’s number although it is not listed on the site. I plan to store these in my contacts list. (I use a ‘dumb’ phone … which works fine for me.)”

    When you view the route schedule on the TTC site, the default display is for ‘timed stops’. Selecting ‘all stops’ will provide the stop numbers for Carlton/Church and all stops along the route.


  24. How many stops are missing on the streetcar routes that are listed so far? Dundas wb at Bathurst is a major omission with the hospital right there. Also some are out of order on the NextBus site. Bathurst & Harbord sb at the bottom of the list instead of the 2nd stop out of the subway.


  25. The 501 Queen is on diversion for the next 10 days or so. I just looked at NextBus and I see it still thinks it’s on its regular routing and that three cars will shortly appear at Queen and Parliament.

    This is hardly very useful and surely easily fixed!


    Steve: Nextbus seems to take a while to catch up on diversions. This is an important issue for the TTC to address because it is during diversions when service is most screwed up and accurate info about vehicle arrivals is most needed. Of course we all know that all of the TTC services run on time 7×24.


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