The Low-Down on NextBus SMS Feeds

I admit. I don’t own an iPhone or any Bluetooth-enable device. Therefore, I’m stuck relying on dumb luck and the occasional NextBus kiosk to catch a timely bus. So after reading Beth’s blog about the NextBus text messaging service, I got pretty excited. Would this mean I wouldn’t have to text a friend anymore to get the next 33 outbound? Don’t hold your breath, friends.

Last week, all week, I put the SMS system to the test, texting for Nextbus predictions. And here’s what I found: the system works – sort of. The key is to be exact about the text and coding of your messages. The NextBus site tries to explain the way the system works, but fails on many accounts. So I’ve put together a barebones how-to guide to get you through the rough patches. I’ll keep playing around with the system and make updates as needed. But here’s the low, low down:

Starting the message: Every message needs to start with “Nbus muni.”

Specifying an address/intersection: If you don’t know the route number or just want to find the next bus coming your way, use the street address or intersection. For example, “haight & clayton” or “2010 haight.” The entire text message would be:

Nbus muni 2010 haight    OR   Nbus muni haight & clayton

Specifying a bus line: To specify a bus line (AKA route number) at your location, add “r” plus the line. For example, “r43” specifies the 43 line. The entire text message would be:

Nbus muni r43 haight & clayton

The not-very-useful “n” command: When Muni texts you back with predictions, you can respond by texting “n” back. This gives you either arrival predictions for the next bus going by your location (like the 7 line if the previous predictions were for the 6 line) or the next direction (such as outbound or inbound).  There’s no way to tell – or specify – what you’re going to get.

Specifying the direction: You can’t, so don’t try! This part pissed me off the most. Often, Nextbus responded with outbound bus predictions when I wanted inbound bus predictions. How do you circumvent this? You can try two things:

– Respond with the “n” command. You’ll either receive information for the next direction, the next line, or the super annoying “Going beyond end of selection.” Arg!
– If you specified a route, create a new message specifying an address or intersection. If you get the wrong direction, respond with the “n” command.

Saving a stop: Save a stop that you’d like to save in the future by responding to NextBus with “s STOPNAME,” and Nextbus will remember it for next time. For example “s school” saves your location as the stop for your school. The next time you want predictions for that stop, just text “Nbus school.”

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