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GPS-Equipped Buses En Route

by Thomas MacMillan | Apr 23, 2014 10:20 am

(20) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: State, Transportation

After missing the M bus home, Steve Banks said he would welcome a mobile-phone-access GPS system that CT Transit plans to install next year.

By the end of 2015, New Haven’s public buses will have GPS (global positioning system) devices installed on them, according to CT Transit spokesman Philip Fry. People at bus stops will be able to use mobile app to see how many minutes away the next bus is.

That might have helped Banks (pictured) catch his bus on Monday afternoon. He just missed the M to his home in Hamden, and had to wait an extra 20 minutes.

Informed of the plans for the new GPS system, Banks said, “Definitely put that on the bus. Definitely.”

New Haveners have been expressing that sentiment for some time. New traffic tsar Doug Hausladen called for GPS-equipped buses when he took office earlier this year. Independent readers voted overwhelmingly in support of the idea.

The proposal will finally become a reality, according to Fry. The state transportation department, which runs CT Transit, has hired Toronto-based Trapeze to install the GPS system. Fry said the system should be in place by the end of 2015. Click the play arrow to see a Trapeze video about its system.

“It’s the Holy Grail of bus information,” said Fry.

Another bus improvement, better fare collection boxes, might be in place as soon as next summer. The state is currently reviewing proposals from companies competing to install a “smart card” system on Connecticut buses.

Bus riders will be able to buy a refillable bus pass that has a microchip in it, instead of the magnetic strip featured on today’s bus passes. When they board the bus, instead of inserting a card into a reader, riders will just tap the top of the fare box, and have the fare automatically deducted from their card.

The Holy Grail

Fry said the state has been working towards GPS-equipped buses for several years. Installation in CT transit’s 600 buses will occur in phases.

The first phase will take place as part of CTfastrak, the new busway under construction between Hartford and New Britain. Buses on CTfastrak and buses in New Britain and Hartford will get GPS units first.

“Then New Haven would be right after that,” Fry said. “The expectation is it would be sometime mid- to late-2015.”

As part of the system, New Haven bus stops will all be numbered. “You’ll be able to go on your computer or phone and punch in the stop that you’re at and it will tell you if your bus will be there in two minutes or three minutes.”

Smartphone users will be able to download an app to interact with the system. Other cell phone users will be able to send a text and receive the information they want.

Riders could always look at the bus schedule to see when the next bus is coming, but what they really want is real-time information, Fry said. “People want to know when my bus is coming. Not when it’s scheduled to be here.”

Hausladen said increasing the amount of information available to bus riders can increase public transit ridership, without having to buy more buses or create new routes. He cited a study showing that real-time information decreases riders’ perceived wait times, keeping riders happier.

The system will tell users how many minutes remain until the next bus arrives at their stop. Fry said it will be similar to a system in St. Petersburg Florida, where people can choose their route and their bus stop and see upcoming arrival times.

St. Petersburg’s system also includes a Google map showing where all city buses are and which direction they’re headed, in real time. Fry said he’s not sure if CT Transit’s system will have that feature.

The system will be especially useful during bad weather or long winters, Fry said. “If it’s pouring rain or cold or snowing, I can check to see when the bus is coming,” Fry said. If the bus is delayed or isn’t coming for 20 minutes, “maybe I’ll stay in my office a little longer.”

Vidhya Ramani expressed the same sentiment, before rushing to catch a bus near the corner of Church and Chapel streets Monday afternoon. With the new system, “I wouldn’t have to wait outside in the cold,” said Ramani, who takes the bus every day to her job in the financial center on Church Street.

Raelyn Rodriguez (at right in photo), waiting with DeeDee Vasquez to take the bus to Archie Moore’s, said she had to wait outside for a half-hour in a snowstorm last year. If the system had already been in place and she’d known the bus would be so late, “I would have stayed home” and waited inside where it was warm.

Ismael Camacho (pictured), commuting back to Hamden from his job at a West Haven nursing home, said he had to call CT Transit that day to figure out what time his bus was coming. He said he’d have an easier time using the bus system if there were a GPS system in place. “It’s a good idea.”

Banks, while he said he supports the idea of a GPS system, also said he wouldn’t necessarily trust the information it would provide.

“The bus is never on time,” he said. “They run when they want to run.”

Sometimes buses are early, sometimes they’re late, he said. Any prediction the GPS system makes could be wrong, if a bus hits traffic.

Two off-duty CT Transit bus drivers, who declined to give their names, said they don’t think the GPS system is a good use of money. Riders don’t need it to know when buses are coming, said one. “They can look at the schedule.”

Tokens?

Before New Haveners will be able to use their phones check on the bus their waiting for, they’ll have a new way to pay their fare. Starting “in the first quarter in 2015,” new fare boxes will start to appear in CT Transit buses, Fry said.

He compared the new system to EZPass, the electronic highway-toll payment system, which scans users’ cars as they pass under an array of sensors.

The new fare boxes will be equipped with a reader that will sense a card when it gets close enough. “You can just tap that and go,” Fry said.

“It’s faster,” Fry said. In the current system, people feed their bus passes in to a box, they are read by the machine and spit out the top. It takes two or three seconds. Those seconds add up if you’ve got a line of people at a busy stop, waiting to get on, Fry said.

Users can set up an account in their name and reload their smart cards online. If you lose your card, you can have it canceled and the money refunded. If you don’t register your card, however, you won’t get your money back if you lose it.

The off-duty bus drivers waiting outside Roly Poly on Monday weren’t impressed by the news of the coming smart cards.

If speed is the concern, CT Transit should install swipe-style pass readers, said one of the drivers.

 

She offered another idea: Tokens. She said all bus stops should have vending machines for tokens. That way, when people get on the bus, they either have a token or they don’t. They can’t start haggling with the driver when they don’t have the right change or are 75 cents short, she said.

“You get cussed out, fussed out, slapped,” she said. “It’s easier for us not to accept cash.”

“Very Rich Data”

Fry said the two planned bus improvements could be combined, to provide the city with lots of new data about bus ridership.

For instance, he said, the fare boxes could track how many people get on at each stop, and what kinds of people: Are they paying the youth fare? The senior citizen fare?

“My hope is to have very rich data,” said Hausladen. With detailed information about which stops are most used, the city could start to think about consolidating stops to make the buses more efficient. Fewer stops would also mean more money to spend on each one, making bus stops more comfortable, he said.

 

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posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 22, 2014  1:45pm

Will the computer program and phone app allow you to view the location of buses in real time, or will it just tell you an expected arrival time?

How does the Yale shuttle program work? Can we just copy that?

posted by: jim1 on April 22, 2014  2:02pm

Now it there is a GPS on the bus you will still miss it if your not at the stop.  This money can be better spent in so many ways. Like the homeless, etc.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on April 22, 2014  2:18pm

@Johnathan Hopkins

You and I share the same concern. If this GPS is just going to show the expected time, it’s a waste of time.

This is 2015, not 2000. If I can use my GPS and see exactly where a traffic jam is at any point and traffic conditions, then there is no reason why people should see the expected time;although, based on GPS, expected times are pretty accurate, it’d still would make since to mirror what Yale has for their students/faculty.

correct me if I am wrong, but I do believe they see the buses in real time via some sort of app.

posted by: anonymous on April 22, 2014  2:43pm

I agree with Jonathan.  If the new system doesn’t let bus users see the exact location of the next bus (like Yale does), then it is a waste of money and should be scrapped.

posted by: Shaggybob on April 22, 2014  3:12pm

There are cities where they have signage like a train station or airport that updates the arrival time of the bus (ie late by x minutes or on time)would be nice to have one on the green at the information center.

It’s about time CT Transit came into the modern age- some of you that think it’s a waste obviously don’t ride the bus very often or at all. Having waited for buses in the frigid cold it would have been nice to know they were going to be 30 minutes late or not show at all due to an accident or mechanical issues.

At least this system will help those that depend on the buses to get to work to seek alternate methods of transportation instead of waiting for no show buses and lose their jobs.

posted by: Threefifths on April 22, 2014  3:36pm

We need 24 hrs transit.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on April 22, 2014  3:57pm

@Threefifths,


24hour transit would make sense if New Haven was open beyond bar closing times. It’s a ghost town after 2:30a-3:00a

Nothing good is outside at that time except for people breaking the law.

PS: I had a typo in my previous post. I wrote “since” instead of “sense”


@Shaggybob,

I only (i think) think one person on the blog disagreed with the GPS system for city transit. The few people who wrote on the blog said, it’s a good thing;however, if they are not going to show the buses locations in real time via the app system, then it was a waste aka no good use for the people who ride the bus. What we are trying to say is, “give the people of New Haven what they really deserve,” which is the same system that the Yale shuttle bus uses. :)

posted by: TheMadcap on April 22, 2014  5:10pm

Echoing what others have said, if it doesn’t actually show where the buses are it’s a colossal waste of money. Nobody cares what the expected arrival time is, traffic doesn’t abide by expectations, not to mention either do the buses themselves. I mean for example you could have a D bus arriving at the Stop&Shop; plaza in Hamden, but where it will be in 15 minutes means nothing because the driver can head into S&S or Old Navy for 10 minutes.

posted by: Threefifths on April 22, 2014  5:56pm

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on April 22, 2014 4:57pm

@Threefifths,


24hour transit would make sense if New Haven was open beyond bar closing times. It’s a ghost town after 2:30a-3:00a

Nothing good is outside at that time except for people breaking the law.

PS: I had a typo in my previous post. I wrote “since” instead of “sense”


People work night jobs.I know people who work at the malls at night.

posted by: HewNaven on April 22, 2014  6:31pm

I’ll be the first to correct myself. In the previous story, I commented that GPS technology would mostly attract new millenial and Gen X riders but ignore the common concerns of current riders of all ages, especially seniors. I think this story proves otherwise. It seems that the digital divide has diminished considerably in the last 5 years, and that use of GPS technology may have crossed that divide.

I second the idea that the new interface should provide real-time reporting and should basically mimic Yale’s service:

http://to.yale.edu/shuttle

posted by: DingDong on April 22, 2014  7:27pm

I don’t understand: it seems like expected arrival times—if informed by where the bus actually is—could be quite useful.  The Silver Line (a bus in Boston) has signs with expected arrival times and they are quite good.  After all, the bus might be really nearby but has to wait for five minutes at the next stop because it’s ahead of schedule.  Isn’t an expected arrival better?

posted by: BenBerkowitz on April 22, 2014  9:41pm

For folks who do not know transit schedules for CT Transit are located in google transit found within your google or apple maps app on your smartphone or desktop.

SCSU also uses a real-time bus tracker that shows positions on googlemaps. Might be worth it for CT Transit to look to this vendor as they are already a State Contractor if they are working with the University.

posted by: Bradley on April 23, 2014  5:34am

3/5ths, expanding the hours CT Transit operates would be a great - how are you going to pay for it? Fare box collections cover less than half of the system’s operating costs and none of its capital costs, e.g., the cost of the buses. Other modes of transportation (including cars and Metro North) are also heavily subsidized, but that doesn’t mean that the bus system is going to get more funding anytime soon.

No transit tracking system (even those with real time maps) is perfect. Adding the mapping function would be useful, but I would argue that even without doing this, riders would find it helpful to know that a bus is not going to arrive for another 15 minutes or so, particularly when it is cold or raining.

One near-term step CT Transit should take is publishing the on-time performance of each line on a monthly or better basis. MTA does this for MetroNorth as well as the subway lines.

posted by: Shaggybob on April 23, 2014  8:49am

@I love my city

What city is it you love? (just curious)

You were jumping to conclusions without facts assuming that the GPS would not provide the information that would actually be helpful. 

My point is, any improvement in CT Transit’s “to be desired” system is an improvement. Buses don’t show up, are continuously late and there scheduling is horrible. Supervisors sit in plain site to try and “catch” bad drivers after a complaint is lodged against them.

Allowing access to real time positioning of buses can be nothing but helpful.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on April 23, 2014  8:49am

@Dingdong

You wrote:
“I don’t understand: it seems like expected arrival times—if informed by where the bus actually is—could be quite useful.”

The bus schedule already does this. If a bus is expected at 10:47a.m. at the Elm & Temple st., but there was an accident on the route, that expected time is no longer effective. See what I did there? :)

I no longer have to take the bus, but when I did, it was horrible. No one wants to be sitting outside in the rain or cold.

HewHaven provided a link to yale’s bus shuttle. This is what the City of New Haven needs. Like I said before, this is 2014, not 2000. People do not want to deal with “expected times.” If someone chooses that over this http://to.yale.edu/shuttle, please let me know. :)


[excuse any typos]

posted by: absolutmakes on April 23, 2014  8:59am

“The system will tell users how many minutes remain until the next bus arrives at their stop. Fry said it will be similar to a system in St. Petersburg Florida, where people can choose their route and their bus stop and see upcoming arrival times.

St. Petersburg’s system also includes a Google map showing where all city buses are and which direction they’re headed, in real time. Fry said he’s not sure if CT Transit’s system will have that feature.”

It appears that the system is capable of showing bus locations in real-time; I have a hard time believing that it would be installed without this feature.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on April 23, 2014  9:26am

@Shaggybob

You wrote:
“What city is it you love? (just curious)

You were jumping to conclusions without facts assuming that the GPS would not provide the information that would actually be helpful.

My point is, any improvement in CT Transit’s “to be desired” system is an improvement. Buses don’t show up, are continuously late and there scheduling is horrible. Supervisors sit in plain site to try and “catch” bad drivers after a complaint is lodged against them.

Allowing access to real time positioning of buses can be nothing but helpful.”

The city that I love is New Haven. Yes, I was born and raised here and Yes, I still live here.

In response to your statement, I don’t know how to respond to you because we agree and have agreed, so I am confused as to where we disagree. Any improvement is a good improvement;I agree. I just don’t like the idea of using GPS to show the expected times on an APP, when people already have the expected times with the bus schedule (paper/online/call center). I don’t know if you are from New Haven or have taken the bus or not, but what I can say is there literally is like a bus stop on some routes every block or two, so expected times just don’t work with a city like New Haven. My point is don’t half azz the job with expected times for people, just give them real time GPS. If the city is going to do something, do it right the first time. This is why everything is constantly being fixed because they never do something correctly the first time. No time for shortcuts. If New Haven wants to be the best city in CT, then they need to act like it even when it comes to technology.

All in all Shaggybob, we agreed with each other from the start, so I don’t have any stones to throw at you on my rebuttal. hahaha [excuse any typos]

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on April 23, 2014  9:29am

I took the city bus for 11years before I started driving. It’s no joke out there. I sympathize with the bus riders as well as I personally know how it felt/feels to be sitting in the cold with freezing toes because I left the warmth of a store or my house to wait 45 extra minutes for a bus that was supposed to be there, and I had no way of knowing. Of course back then, smartphones didn’t exist. Now they do, so now there should be adjustments. :)

posted by: TheMadcap on April 23, 2014  5:12pm

“It appears that the system is capable of showing bus locations in real-time; I have a hard time believing that it would be installed without this feature.”

It’s totally capable, but whether or not they’ll let us see it is a different story. I imagine the bus drives themselves are against it because if people suddenly see a bus sitting at a plaza for 10-15 minutes like so many do when the driver goes into a store then they’re going to start lodging complaints.

posted by: budman on April 24, 2014  6:20am

Does this city really have a traffic tsar that thinks we do not need more buses and increased routes?  Knowing when a bus is coming isn’t going to replace the bus running, or getting to your destination. Simply look at the map of bus routes and you will see the gaps.  Or take a ride on the D or the J and you see the overcrowding.  Rather than make bus travel more convenient, he wants to fewer stops?  Come on.

I fully support CT Transits work to put GPS on buses.  I know this has been in play for some time and I can’t wait to use it.

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