Still No Bus GPS As New Year Begins

Paul Bass PhotoNow they’re saying: Maybe February.

That’s the latest word from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) about its repeatedly overdue promise to enable CT Transit riders to find out when and where their often-late buses are arriving at stops in New Haven.

As 2016 drew to a close this weekend, the DOT missed yet another goal for having the system installed.

In late November, a DOT official said the agency expected to be able to “say, ‘Merry Christmas’” to New Haven’s beleaguered bus riders by having fully activated a GPS system on each bus that communicates real-time location information to various apps. Once up and running, the service will be available on riders’ cell phones running Transit App, Google Earth, or Roadify.

DOT had already promised to have that service in place by the end of 2015.

It agreed to the project after New Haven officials, including the mayor, requested the feature and blasted the state for its poor bus service.

But then the DOT decided to test out the system in Hartford, not New Haven. Hartford now has the system.

In March 2016, DOT Public Transportation Administrator Michael Sanders revised the promise. He said New Haven could expect the service to be in place by September 2016.

September came and went. No new service.

By November, the state did have the needed equipment installed on almost all of New Haven’s 129 CT Transit buses. The equipment will also post the names of upcoming stops both inside and outside the buses. But the GPS service couldn’t start yet. That’s because of two new problems.

Problem one: New Haven’s fleet includes different kinds of buses of various ages. That meant the state needed its vendor, a company called the Trapeze Group, to produce a bunch of different wiring harnesses to support the systems. That took extra time.

Problem two: The state needs one central system that enables each district’s dispatch center to access localized information. The DOT discovered that under the current design, dispatchers in New Britain would be seeing information and talking to buses in not just New Britain, but Waterbury, New Haven, and Hartford. That didn’t make sense. But it also didn’t make sense to install separate servers and software and programming in each part of the state, Sanders said. That’s in part because not all regions operate the same way. For instance, unlike in New Haven, CT Transit buses in New Britain are operated not by the state, but by privately owned companies. DOT concluded it shouldn’t be installing state equipment in a non-state-owned facility. So it asked the vendor to design a new statewide multi-agency software system that would enable New Haven, New Britain, Waterbury, and Hartford riders to access real-time info about their local buses without wading through real-time info about other cities’ buses.

In late November, DOT Transit Manager Lisa Rivers predicted the problems would be ironed out within weeks. “We’re hoping before the end of the year,” Rivers said, ”so we can say, ‘Merry Christmas.’”

Come the end of the year — and Sanders reported that the multi-agency software “is behind schedule due to the complications of setting up software like this for six different operating depots.  The multi-agency software is necessary so that all data will flow through the central system, but each division only sees and communicates with buses in their own division, and so each app provider using that data will be able to segregate each operating division.”

The new prediction?

“The latest update received from the vendor last week indicates that we will be able to demo the software in early January,” Sanders wrote in an email message, “with go-live for dissemination of real-time location info to the public in New Haven happening by February at the latest.”

Meanwhile, the city is working on a state-funded “mobility” study about how to overhaul the bus system so more people can choose to ride it rather than see it as an option of last resort.

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posted by: vpaul on January 2, 2017  10:01am

Guess we’ve forgotten about seat belts. Much more important to get to work on time than be as safe as in any private vehicle! Priorities??

posted by: alphabravocharlie on January 2, 2017  10:51am

It’s a miracle anything gets done in this State.

posted by: mcg2000 on January 2, 2017  12:31pm

MTA -New York City Transit finally opened the 2nd Avenue Subway Line after decades since it was originally proposed. I hope CT Transit doesn’t aim for the same record in New Haven. I’m disappointed once again that Hartford is getting something before New Haven does.

posted by: TheMadcap on January 2, 2017  1:27pm

The state has a massive budget shortfall coming up, yoooge if you will. Republicans now share power in the state senate, and the federal government is controlled entirely by Republicans. Cuts are coming to the DoT, the bus service isn’t getting better no matter how many ideas the study has

posted by: mcg2000 on January 2, 2017  1:54pm

There may be budget cuts coming but it seems to me that the bulk of the costs for the gps are involved in the start up phase and once it’s running, the maintenance costs are minimal. Plus a company was already hired to do the work. A GPS would benefit those who could wait indoors instead of at a bus stop exposed to the elements and help those who have the choice of 2 bus lines decide which one to take on the basis of the GPS versus just guessing.

posted by: Bradley on January 2, 2017  2:02pm

VPaul, buses differ fundamentally from cars, not only in terms of their construction but also how they operate. City buses generally drive 30 m.p.h. or less. When biking down Grand Ave. I often outpace the bus and I am 62. I have taken buses in cities across the U.S, Canada, and Europe.  I don’t recall seeing seat belts anywhere, not even Sweden and Denmark which are very safety-conscious societies.

posted by: Bradley on January 2, 2017  2:25pm

TheMadcap, the installation of GPS will allow Connecticut Transit to determine the extent to which late buses are due to facttors beyond its control such as road congestion vs. factors such as drivers starting their runs late. The contactless fare collection systems being installed will expedite boardings. In addition, there are some relatively low-cost measures such as bus rapid transit that could improve the bus system to some extent.

Having said that, I think your point is basically right. Increasing the frequency of buses, expanding hours of service, or other structural improvements will require substantial increases in Connecticut Transit’s capital and operating budgets. This is not going to happen in the president-elect’s term of office.

posted by: witchininthekitchen on January 2, 2017  2:41pm

The city/state can do any number of studies but the result is not going to change. We need the same level of bus services on all routes after 5pm as we have between 6am and 9am. If the city wants people to use CT Transit to commute to work, CT Transit must provide commuter hour bus service. How many different ways does this need to be communicated to the state? The GPS system is also a necessity but again, it is clearly not going to happen any time soon. If you don’t have a viable transit system it is not a matter of people WANTING to use it, they CAN’T use it.

With the state budget being what it is, it seems more likely that there will be cuts to service rather than the needed increase in service. Not the best picture for the future.

posted by: TheMadcap on January 2, 2017  4:13pm

You don’t need the same level of service at say 1030pm that you have at 8am, you just jeed service period. The last J bus heada down Whitney between 830 and 9. The last M bus heading south from upper state ends at 7.  The last F bus out of Branford is at 5 and out of East Haven at 930. Even in NH, the last bus out of the Heights/Cove is at 930. And this is weekdy service.

posted by: Bradley on January 2, 2017  8:04pm

Witchininthekitchen/themadcap, how do you propose to pay for the longer hours?  Fares cover perhaps 30% of a bus’s operating costs and none of its capital costs. Do you think the legislature is going to raise gas or income taxes (both largely paid by people who don’t take the bus) to pay for expanded service?

posted by: witchininthekitchen on January 2, 2017  9:51pm

Bradley, mass transit usually doesn’t garner large profits. But it is part of a healthy infrastructure like good roads are. Fares do pay for part of mass transit and the state pays a portion as well. The more people who ride the bus, the more fares CT Transit collects-which again won’t pay for everything but it would help. New Haven is not the only community with CT Transit bus routes and riders, so yes, taxes should go toward helping pay for it.

The argument is often made that people are paying for mass transit who don’t use it. I would counter with the fact that I rarely travel on 95 or 91 but my tax dollars pay for the highways even if I don’t commute on them. Tax dollars pay for many program/services we don’t all use, but are needed.

I do agree completely that given the current budget situation it is not at all likely that there will be any increase in service. Would taxes have to go up to pay for mass transit? Taxes are going to go up period, both income and gas taxes if the budget can’t pay for the essentials of running the state. So, I think mass transit is going to have to take its place in line for the money.

I guess I just object to seeing money shelled out for studies when people have been complaining about why the bus system does not work for a long time.

posted by: TheMadcap on January 3, 2017  12:05am

Mass transit rarely garners a profit period or used by a majority of people for that matter. Should they approve the funds to increase service? Absolutely. Will they? I doubt it.

posted by: Bradley on January 3, 2017  8:34am

Witchininthekitchen, public transportation shouldn’t be expected to make a profit and all transportation modes are subsidized. But public transportation finance is like a homeowner whose income is insufficient to pay her utility bills and cannot pay anything towards her mortgage.

The study is largely federally funded. The local funding would have a trivial impact if applied to running the buses.

We agree on the desirability of better bus service. But even when the budget was in much better shape, the legislature was unwilling to spend the type of money needed to make structural improvements. I worked for the legislature for 30 years, including 10+ years staffing the Transportation Committee. I think it is implausible that legislators, most of whom are suburbanites who don’t take the bus, will substantially increase bus funding.

posted by: vpaul on January 4, 2017  11:39am

Hey Brad - So there are no lawsuits about people being injured in minor bus accidents? And because no one else provides seat belts, we shouldn’t protect out public?

Let’s be a little more logical. And caring.

posted by: Bradley on January 6, 2017  6:20pm

Vpaul, there’s plenty of evidence that seat belts in passenger vehicles save lives and reduce the frequency of injuries. I wear my seat belt when I move my car from one side of the street to another. In contrast, there is very little data on the effectiveness of seat belts on city buses. There is more data on the effectiveness of seat belts in school buses, but it is equivocal - some studies find they reduce injuries while others find that they have no or negative effects. In any case, one difference between the two is that city buses, unlike school buses, routinely have standees, as illustrated by the photo in this article. Seat belts would do absolutely no good for these riders.

posted by: Mary S on January 6, 2017  8:06pm

I’m hardly the queen of technology over here, but I’m just going to throw this out there for someone better educated than me to comment on: how hard can it be to stick a GPS in a bus? Why does it have to be tailored to each model of bus?
I certainly can see the difficulty the dispatching…but look how cheap mobile technology is now- a phone that tracks its user’s location is not super expensive. What am I missing here?