Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Guelph opts for high-tech cure for bus wait woes - CBC News

Guelph opts for high-tech cure for bus wait woes
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 | 6:27 PM ET
CBC News

The 55 vehicles in the Guelph, Ont., transit fleet are the first in Canada to be equipped with a Canadian-owned technology designed, in part, to solve the classic commuter dilemma: "Will I miss the bus if I grab a coffee?"

The NextBus technology, to be officially launched in Guelph on Wednesday, uses global positioning system data to track each bus. The location of the vehicle is then combined with data and formulas predicting when it will arrive at the stop.

The software uses the internet to relay the estimated arrival time for the next three buses to would-be passengers through signs at bus stops or through their web-enabled cellphones, mobile devices or home computers.

A telephone service will also provide the information, and a web alert system is in place for transit disruptions such as construction or detours.

Unlike traditional services based on the transit schedules, NextBus bases its prediction on the current location of a bus. The time, day and season are also factored in, but current weather conditions are not.

"We are always looking to move to bigger and better things for our customers," Elisabeth van der Made, a supervisor with Guelph's Transit Authority, told CBC News.
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"When there's a more reliable service people are more apt to use the service."

Guelph has invested more than $340,000 in the system, plus ongoing fees and charges for upgrades.

NextBus also allows the transit authority to gather more accurate data on its service and will be useful in resolving customer complaints, says van der Made. It allows them to replay the route followed by a particular bus and verify stops made and the speed travelled.

Guelph will start with two display boards — at the university transit centre and at Stone Road Mall. Passengers can look up their own stops at the website.

Better service equals more riders

Owen Moore, president of Toronto-based Grey Island Systems International Inc. the company that owns the technology, said the ability to make taking transit more convenient and reliable for passengers helps transit systems boost ridership.

Given environmental concerns and crowding on highways "we really have no other choice but to get people out of their cars and into the public transit system," said Moore.

While this is the first system for the public to use in Canada, Grey Island's technology is already in place for transit riders in more than 40 U.S. locations, including San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Systems for internal company use are also in place to track fleets as diverse as commuter trains, emergency vehicles and snow plows across North America.
For people to flock to transit, it needs to be swift, frequent, and reliable. While GPS tracking doesn't make it more frequent or faster, it does ensure that the rider will always know when the bus is due. There's no possible way a display board could be installed at every bus stop, even in a city as small as Guelph, but every stop with a major trip generator should have one. This is something the GTA should be looking at, because if it works for Guleph and for YRT, then it will surely work for the rest of us.

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