Metro Capitalizes on Ubiquity of Buses to Provide Text-Based, Real-Time Traffic Information

Metro launches its new real-time, eyes-on-the-road, traffic texting service today, April 1, 2010. Metro’s recent budget woes have led the agency to pursue both cost-cutting and revenue-enhancing measures. It has also given the agency impetus to look at its strategic assets in new ways. By working with the consulting firm Nozirev, the agency identified its bus fleet as a potential source of new revenues. Metro buses blanket the area, particularly during rush hours, and can provide real-time eyes to traffic situations. (This post is an April Fool's post)

Through a sophisticated texting system, Metrobus operators will respond personally to specific requests for traffic information in their vicinity. This allows commuters to make decisions about what route to take, when to plan their trip, or whether to even bother getting out of bed.

The system is simple to use. Send the text “WMATA” to 96272 (WMATA). You’ll instantly receive the response, “Service requested?” Then reply with “RTRTT” for “Real-Time Regional Traffic Texting.” The response will read, “Are you sure you want RTRTT?” Reply with “Y” or “Yes;” the system will recognize either one and will reply with, “Location requested?”

This is where knowing some shortcuts can really help. You can try texting in something like “Rockville Pike Southbound near White Flint,” which may or may not be clear enough for the system to understand. Instead, by using the 2nd, 3rd and last letter of the street name and ‘N to indicate “and” (as in “Rock ‘N Roll”), you can be assured of a correct identification. Also, for the quadrants of DC, just imagine the map rotated 45 degrees counterclockwise to save a letter. This way, NW becomes W and NE becomes N, etc. Here are some easy examples:

- Georgia Avenue and Military Road, NW is simply coded in as: EOA ‘N ILY W
- Pennsylvania and Branch Avenue SE is easily identified as: ENA ‘N RAH E

Single letter and numbered street names retain their identity, e.g., 23rd Street is 23 and U Street is U.

Reactions to the new system have been almost universally positive. Jake Danvers, who rides the 32 bus on Wisconsin Avenue said, “It works great for me. My driver is telling all those car commuters to go some other way, and that clears the road for us. My ride is a good 2-3 minutes faster now. Also, it’s more exciting. Yesterday, for example, we sideswiped a BMW and knocked over a newsstand. Since our driver didn’t notice, it didn’t cost me any time on my commute. Also, I’ve noticed cars and pedestrians really stay out of the way of the careening bus, so there’s more room for us to barrel down the road.”

Prince William resident and long distance commuter Doris Morris also gushed, “Not only do I get right up-to-date information, the bus drivers’ text notes are often entertaining.” Metrobus has encouraged drivers to inject some personality into their texts as a way of personalizing the service. Metrobus 5A driver Vinny Soros is known for his salty language, with some texts like these:
“No f*&^@in’ way ur gonna b on time! LOL”
“That’s a s*@$tload of taillights up there!”

In contrast, Doreen Phillips, who drives the S2 likes to make biblical references:
“Pslm 37 - Be still in the presence of the Lord”
“Colssns 3:8 But now u must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, n filthy language from ur lips.”

A favorite among many commuters is Sokudo Wamatayi, a Japanese American originally from Brooklyn, who occasionally mixes in a relevant haiku:
“Blossoms of pale pink
Universally beckon

Relevant text information is retained for five minutes, so if another commuter requests information from the same location, they receive the retained text. This safety feature was designed to reduce distractions for drivers. Implementation studies showed that with this system feature, even the drivers with the busiest routes were able to focus on the road more than 70% of the time while still providing extremely accurate information.

Anyone can use the service without registration. Individual texts are $.50 not including costs from your service provider. Daily users, though, can register for unlimited service for only $19.95 per month. Visit

Photo attribution for crushed newsrack: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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