NextMuni: 10 minutes…1 minute…28 minutes…

I actually like the fact that NextMuni exists. It gives me something to look at in a bus shelter rather than stare at the people in it, stare at the Muni map I’ve damn-near memorized, stare off into space, or stare at my cell phone photos or text messages to keep me entertained. It also helps prevent stepping out and looking for the bus (“Is it there now…now?…NOW??”), though I still do that if it’s one minute away and I don’t see one headed my way.

Though I hear some fairly positive reviews of it (and read a handful of fairly positive reviews of it on Yelp), I kind of hate NextMuni, an apparent adjunct of NextBus. I really want to know who is responsible for it, so I know who to complain to about their irritatingly inaccurate system.

NextMuni has failed me at many turns. One of them includes the F stop at Beach and Stockton, which is near my job and near piles of tourists wishing to return to their Union Square hotels. It’s a very simple problem.

NextMuni: F-Embarcadero/Wharves, 3 minutes and 8 minutes

Hooray, right?

A minute later, it changes: F-Embarcadero/Wharves, 2 minutes and 7 minutes

Great, we’re on track.

A couple minutes go by, and there’s no F. Tourists are panicking and my blood is starting to boil. Not because of them, but because of NextMuni.

To be extra helpful, NextMuni stays on “2 minutes, 7 minutes” for another five minutes. Just for good measure. Then it says the next one is coming in 10 minutes. Then one arrives almost immediately.

The worst was waiting around 11 p.m. for a 49. We sat outside a friend’s apartment on Van Ness and Chestnut (near the beginning of the line!!) watching NextMuni toy with our emotions.

49 – 14 minutes

49 – 28 minutes

49 – 18 minutes

And so on. It’s also happened on Market while I’ve waited for the 2 and the 31, and it’s happened a couple times on the 33.

Muni, some lines more than others, has a horrible record for on-time performance. I suppose, until someone in power does something about it, I can deal with Muni being late. But I don’t appreciate being taunted by an inaccurate, electronic sign while dealing with its tardiness. — Tara


  • I actually had a chance to talk with NextBus’s lead engineer about two months ago and asked him the same thing that you’re wondering: “Why is NextMuni completely wrong?”

    First, a bit of background (which I hopefully won’t get wrong): NextBus is a small company that contracts with cities to provide route predictions for their passengers. NextMuni is the implementation for Muni. NextBus installs GPS units in trains and buses and uses the data from those to put predictions on their website and on LED signs at stops.

    Near the beginning of a particular route, NextBus doesn’t really have anything to go by — when the bus or train hasn’t left yet, all they can do is offer Muni’s printed schedule (augmented, I believe, with information about which drivers aren’t working that day). Since Muni is late and unreliable, it makes sense that these predictions are usually bogus. I believe that NextBus also doesn’t get useful location about trains that are in the tunnel under Market St, which explains why I always get stood up by NextMuni when trying to catch an outbound J around 16th and Church, just a few blocks beyond where it comes out of the tunnel.

    This sounds like it explains your trouble catching the 49 near the beginning of the line, but I don’t know enough about the F’s route to know whether the same thing is happening here. I also recall one evening when some friends and I noticed grossly different predictions for the inbound N depending on whether one checked the LED sign at the stop, the NextMuni website, or the NextMuni mobile site, which isn’t explained by this at all.

    Anyway, if you have more questions about this stuff, the place where I spoke with the NextBus guy was a monthly “car-free happy hour” for people interested in SF transit that I heard about from a friend at work. I couldn’t find much information on the web about it, but this thread has a post saying that it’s held at Zeitgeist at 5:30 on the first Wednesday of each month, which gibes with the one that I attended.

  • tara

    Thanks much for your comment and all the info. Your explanation makes sense, and I’d be curious to know whether that’s the key to the mystery. I’d still argue, though, that if it’s not going to work…maybe we just shouldn’t have NextMuni?

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