Yesterday, we explained why 311 is your new go-to number for all things bus-predictive. The operators at 311 have a wealth of data, y'see; much more than 511 has. But sometimes NextMuni lets us down: for whatever reason, a bus sometimes won't show up in the system. So it looks like there's huge gaps in service; the buses are actually out there, but they're simply "invisible" to NextMuni.

So what do you do about it?

Well, this isn't common knowledge, but one piece of info that the 311 operators have is a list of which specific vehicles are out driving around. And they also have a copy of Muni's schedule. So when you suspect that a bus might've turned invisible, here are the questions you can ask. Let's say, for example, that you're waiting for the bus at 3:00pm:

311: "The NextMuni system says that the next bus will arrive at your stop at 4:00pm -- that's a 60 minute wait."

You: "Okay, but what time is the next pickup at my stop?"

311: "Well, the next scheduled pickup is for 3:20."

You: "Is the vehicle that's scheduled to make that pickup out on the road right now?"

311: "Yup."

Aha! That means that the bus that's scheduled to pick you up in 20 minutes is out of the busyard, picking people up! It's invisible to NextMuni, but it is, in fact, out there. So there's a good chance that it'll pick you up at its scheduled time. That's the difference between an expected wait of 20 minutes and an expected wait of 60; the difference between "I should wait" and "I should walk."

If you want to be super-detailed, you can even ask, "what is that bus' vehicle number?" Because they've got that info as well.

A few caveats: as we all know, Muni's schedules are sometimes kinda faith-based. Just because a bus is scheduled to arrive at a certain time doesn't mean that it will; it may be delayed (intentionally or unintentionally), or it might be performing only a fraction of its regular run. But that doesn't mean you're out of options: you can also call 311 to submit a complaint! Muni won't improve unless we tell 'em how, so don't be shy. Call 311 to submit a Passenger Services Report; get the PSR number; and let us know about it here at SFist so we can track your case for you.

Tomorrow: We teach you how to complain when something goes wrong.