It's a couple of years behind schedule but transit riders can soon use their smart phones to find out precisely when to expect their bus.
The upgraded TransLink iPhone app relaunches Sept. 6, allowing users to see a real-time map of buses anywhere in the region, plotted using location data from on-board GPS systems.
But it won't be until early in 2012 that the system will also be able to tell users how many minutes their bus is from a given stop.
For now, spokesperson Erin McConnell said, app users will have to look at where the bus is on the map and make their own estimate.
Not having to wonder if a bus is late or has already gone by would be a huge boon to those waiting – particularly on lower frequency routes where buses may be 30 minutes or more apart.
TransLink predicted in 2008 real-time bus arrival estimates – the Holy Grail of transit information – would be available to users by late 2009.
Until now, riders have been able to text the five-digit code found on any bus stop to TransLink's NextBus service and get an automated reply listing when the next six buses are scheduled to arrive – but not using accurate real-time data.
The new system still won't be able to tell users if the bus they're waiting for is full and passing people without stopping. McConnell said that may be pursued in future upgrades.
The development of the app and related technology cost $793,000.
The service will initially run on the iPhone and desktop computers, but apps are also promised for Android or Blackberry phones.
TransLink is recruiting users to test out the new app starting Aug. 29.