Friday, March 6, 2009

Metro manager Catoe talks about NextBus

Some of you must have read my previous post, as Metro general manager John Catoe addressed NextBus in his weekly chat today. Here's what he had to say to start off the chat:
General Manager John Catoe: There has been a lot of talk lately about Next Bus, which is a good thing because we expect Next Bus to be back up and running this July.

The return of NextBus is highly anticipated by many bus riders, and by many who were able to gain access to an internal test site over the last few months. We have restricted access to that test site, which has disappointed a number of people. Those people who were using the system have reported in blogs that the system was working well for them, and I’m pleased to hear that.

However, I have to take a much wider view of NextBus and the accuracy of its predictions. Launching a “beta” version may make sense for software developers, it doesn’t make sense for Metro. Before NextBus is fielded again, I have to be sure that it will work well for all of our bus riders. If we allow access to a test site, then we are in effect launching that site and service. That means we need to be ready to give anyone and everyone using that site our full attention if they have problems and complaints. All the disclaimers in the world won’t make any practical difference. If we were to allow access to the site, then, potentially, there would be hundreds of thousands trying to use something that just isn’t ready for prime time, yet. That means a flood of complaints, and we take every complaint seriously. If we allow the system to be used before we’re confident that its ready, then, although, it may be convenient for some, it just won’t work for everyone the way we envision it should. I would also take more resources, both financially and in terms of manpower that we aren't ready to commit yet.

When the system went off-line on October 31, 2007, we estimated that it would take up to 18 months to bring it back. That estimate was fairly accurate. Just be patient a few more months, and the service will be back up. There’s a saying “measure twice and cut once.” That’s what we are doing with NextBus to make sure we have everything in place to meet our goal of 95% accuracy on bus arrival times. This will be a significant improvement, and worth the wait.
This is good and bad. It's good that Catoe clearly sees that people want this soon, but July is still 4.5 months away. It seems Catoe and the Metro staff don't understand the point of a beta test, which is to find errors BEFORE you release your final product. They obviously didn't do that well enough the first time, which is why they had to take it down before.

So sign the petition!

UPDATE: Sommer gives the rundown over at DCist.


  1. I do want the Next Bus system to be up and running, but I see Catoe's point also. I'd rather Metro put in work now and build what they consider the best possible system. If it’s not perfect upon release, I’m sure that will be brought to their attention. But I’ll give them the chance to give it their best shot. It’s been on the schedule for release this year since it was shut down in ‘07.

    To put an unfinished beta version online to "test" would be detrimental to the overall goal, getting people around efficiently and safely. It’s not a new program for a cool mp3 player or a game, its software that thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands will depend on to be reliable and consistent.

    I think they made a mistake leaving the unofficial system online in the first place.

  2. "Release early; release often"

  3. don't understand why you are complaining and starting a petition. obviously they are working on the site and it will be available soon. what is the problem?

  4. The petition came out before this- but it's still five months away, and it's already been almost 18 months. That's far too long.

  5. I have to agree with Catoe on this, but also think that a petition can make them work all the more harder to get it out as ap, and to expand it to all lines (if my brain is function more or less properly, I recall it was available on a few lines only before).


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