Hey Siri, when is the next bus home?

I just put the finishing touches on my bus shortcuts on my iPhone.  It always bugged me that I couldn’t ask Siri “When’s the next bus to work?” or “When’s the next bus home?”.  NJ Transit has a web interface called My Bus Now and I always have it up on a first gen iPad in the bathroom in the morning, but frequently, as I’m rushing around to make it to the bus, I want to do a quick time check to see how far away the bus is.  My hands aren’t always free or I don’t want to stop running around, unlock the phone, navigate my home screen, tap my homescreen shortcut, put my glasses on, wait for the page to load, and look at the screen to make sure it’s the right bus route (which I frequently miss and sit there at the stop kicking myself for not noticing the next bus was for a different route number).  It’s much faster, accurate, and more efficient to just say “He Siri, when’s the next bus to work?”, with all those details taken care of for me.  With Siri Shortcuts in iOS 12, this is now possible.

I’ve been using this shortcut now for a number of months and have worked out all the rare cases, like how to handle when there are 2 buses close together, the time is the string “APPROACHING” instead of a number of minutes, etc..  I will add a caveat however that the My Bus Now system isn’t terribly accurate and sometimes a bus’s GPS isn’t working and doesn’t show up on the system.  Also note that, if the next bus is over a half hour away, it doesn’t show up on the system, and if the route you’re taking stops running at night, this shortcut will not tell you that the route isn’t running.

That said, here’s how you install the shortcut for your stop.  When you tap to download the shortcut file:

nextbushome  (Next Bus Home.shortcut)

You will have to answer 3 questions:

  1. Enter the exact NJ Transit 5-digit bus stop number.  Every NJ Transit bus stop sign has a 5 digit code for the My Bus Now system.  Just enter digits.  No spaces or any other characters.  This is for the stop where you will be getting on the bus, e.g. the stop closest to your work.  Make sure it’s on the side of the road going the direction you want to go.  You can look up stop numbers here.
  2. What’s the name of your destination?  This is what Siri uses in her response to indicate how far away the next bus is from the stop you entered in step 1.  It should fit into the phrase “The next bus [destination] is 10 minutes away”.  E.g. “home”, as in “The next bus home is 10 minutes away”.
  3. Enter the exact NJ Transit bus route number.  Personally, I ride the “606” route to and from work.  Routes go both ways.  The direction is implied by the stop number from step 1.

After you import the shortcut and answer the questions, you should test it out to make sure there are no mistakes.  Compare Siri’s response with the arrival times shown on My Bus Now for the stop number from step 1.

This shortcut currently only works for a single bus route.  It will ignore other routes that stop at the same stop and it will ignore subsequent buses approaching the same stop (i.e. if there are 2, 606 buses approaching, it will only tell you about the one that is the closest until it has passes the stop).  If you have the option of taking multiple different routes to get to your destination or if you want to know about all approaching busses, it’s possible, but the shortcut would have to be edited.

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