Back in November, Bruce bashed RapidRide for having neither a published schedule, nor real-time arrival board, nor real support in OneBusAway:
I don’t expect miracles, but I do expect Metro to deliver this service at a level of quality that befits a premium, flagship service. The status quo of no schedule and no OneBusAway on the C & D Lines — more than six weeks after the start of service — is an intolerable embarrassment to the agency and is corroding the RapidRide brand.
All these points are valid, and thankfully Metro has corrected the situation. But that just calls into relief the outrage that Link, a few years older and with an order of magnitude more capital investment, still has nothing but an onsite two minute warning.
Fortunately, a new research project provides some hope that ST will find a solution in the next few years. Last July the Sound Transit Board appropriated funds to a new research & technology program known as “Regional Data Services.” Yesterday I spoke with Michael Berman, the Program Supervisor, who told me the prospects of getting what we’ve been waiting for all this time.
All below the jump.
Phase 1 will cost $9m and run through early 2015. The staff report lists the many research subjects, but here I’ll focus on the real time elements.
The first activity is that Sound Transit is assuming responsibility for One Bus Away. The existing contract with the University of Washington expires on May 15th, and sometime around that date Sound Transit servers will provide the back end for OBA going forward, providing a stable platform for this service.
A second thrust of this project is to improve the quality of data feeding into OBA. There are a number of technical issues . In any case, new algorithms will improve the data set exported to applications like OBA through integrity checks and the like by early next year, and begin a “culture of continuous improvement” by providing feedback to transit agencies about their data streams. It’s not clear that users will immediately notice the change, but over time accuracy should improve.
And light rail? The core problem is that the Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that Sound Transit purchased to run the trains is focused on safety and security, not interface to external data customers. Another deliverable in early 2014 should resolve the problems with the SCADA interface to allow OBA to report actual arrival times.
Getting actual next train times in light rail stations is the next step. Although software projects are inherently risky to schedule, Mr. Berman believes that by early 2015 stations should have this capability.
I asked why Link couldn’t inexpensively use GPS in the meantime, just as Metro does. GPS doesn’t work underground, but like a tunnel bus Sound Transit could estimate arrivals while the trains are in tunnels based on its timing while above ground. Mr. Berman said that internally his group had “talked about a stopgap” but were going to see if the SCADA approach worked first. I didn’t think to ask why we were still talking about this almost four years after opening day.
It’s true that lower headways and greater reliability reduce the chances of a really long wait, and therefore the imperative to provide what most frequent rapid transit systems provide. But the times where that falls apart — late-night 15 minute headways, track maintenance, accidents on MLK, tunnel snafus — are the times where this information is most missed.
* In fact, according to Wayne Watanabe (IT Service Delivery Manager for KCDOT), King County Metro has withheld millions of dollars in payments for the Automated Vehicle Location System (AVLS), until Init AG, the Germany-based contractor, solves some of the problems. An Init AG spokesman declined to comment, citing “a contractual obligation relative to the confidentiality of all our projects.” UPDATE: Mr. Watanabe clarifies that “the OBS project is not yet completed and consistent with the terms and conditions of the contract, full payment is only made upon full system acceptance. Metro and its contractor are actively working together to resolve the issues affecting system operation.”