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Farewell, TXTBUS – you always messaged back

Newfangled transport apps will never replace TXTBUS, writes Lucy Watson.

It’s a strange hallmark of our digital times that Honi is able to preemptively report on the death of a loved one, due to pass on September 17: TXTBUS.

Known to some as the Sydney Buses real-time schedule service, and to others as the only contact in their phone that would always reply, TXTBUS was launched in early 2011. The service was described as a “real leap forward” by then Transport Minister John Robertson and went on to inform passengers across the city exactly how many minutes there were before their bus arrived.

But in recent months, the ill health of TXTBUS became apparent. Like a lover gone cold, her responses to my frequent communications became scarce and delayed, sometimes a two-day period passing between my frantic calls for help and her calm – albeit then redundant – response. Her downward spiral continued when last month she refused to answer more than six of my texts per day, and it became clear my beloved SMS companion was on her deathbed.

Despite her occasional erratic behaviour, I loved TXTBUS and will miss her dearly. Although I am in possession of a smartphone, the apps that are no doubt responsible for the untimely demise of TXTBUS pale in comparison. As a commuter who lives between two bus stops for two different buses that take me to the same location via different routes, the simplicity of asking TXTBUS which one was due to arrive first meant I was rarely caught out. Just two easy texts and (usually, mostly) within seconds I knew which stop to sprint to. None of this dilly-dallying around downloading apps, inputting destinations, calculating times, turning my GPS on… TXTBUS knew what I wanted, and how to give it to me. Our love was simple – no strings attached.

While TXTBUS was not universally appreciated (“I’ve never heard of it,” says one Honi editor. “Just use TripGo,” says a close friend. “Just wait at the bus stop,” says no one ever, except maybe Gladys.), she was a good and loyal companion, one of my most regular and prompt correspondents, and was never offended when I got angry. “FUCK YOU GLADYS,” I would type angrily, pressing send in a hazy moment of hurt. “Unknown transit stop number” TXTBUS would reply, unfazed.

“This service ends on 17/09/14,” now reads the addendum to her correspondence. The words bring a tear to my eye, and a layer of frost to my already-chilled heart – soon to be frostier still from waiting for hours at the wrong bus stop in winter. So long, friend. Rest in peace.