‘Janky’ NextBus Muni prediction system gets first round of upgrades

A LCD screen displays when the next 48-Quintara/24th Street bus arrives at 14th Avenue and Santiago Street in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. (Photo by Jerold Chinn)

Launched in 1999, San Francisco was ahead of the game when launching NextBus, which gave passengers a time prediction on when the next Muni bus or train was arriving. About 23 years later, the outdated technology that runs NextBus finally got some much-needed upgrades over the weekend.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said on its website Thursday that they were making updates and switching to new software on Sunday as part of its Next Generation Customer Information System project.

It’s a soft launch of the new software, said SFMTA’s Chief Technology Officer, Lisa Walton, who gave a presentation about the upgrades to the agency’s Board of Directors last month. Upgrades to the system will be phased in through 2024.

New features part of the soft launch include allowing passengers to see how crowded buses are on buses equipped with automatic passenger counters. The feature can be viewed on the new LCD screens installed at some transit stops.

More than half of the new LCD screens have been installed at transit shelters, the agency said on its website. The installation of the new screens has slowed due to supply chain constraints, Walton said at the board meeting.

At transit stops that are unable to power the LCD screens, Walton said the project budgeted for up to 800 solar powered signs in order to fill gaps in locations where predictions are unavailable. While the signs will not be rich in information, they will provide the basic prediction for the next arrival of a Muni vehicle, Walton added.

Next February, the SFMTA plans to launch a new mobile app and make improvements to predictions at terminals as well as finally addressing the issue of “ghost buses.” Eventually, the new NextBus system will also be able to provide alternative routes that could get riders to their destination more quickly and real-time service delays and detours by 2024.

In addition to improvements to NextBus, Walton said the agency is also working on improving the Wi-Fi at subway stations and putting cellular service in the subway, which is a project in collaboration with BART.

Walton gave no exact date on when cell phone service will arrive in the subway except to say “it will happen soon” but added that a certain new subway will have cell service once it opens.

“We will be opening Central Subway with the cellular services in the tunnel for sure,” Walton said.

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Jerold Chinn

Award-winning transportation journalist based in San Francisco.