Has the bus come by yet? Asheville considers GPS bus tracking

On Wednesday, Jan. 13, the Asheville Transit Commission looked at a proposal to arm Asheville City buses with software that would give riders a real-time view of a bus’s position on its route.

A smart phone located on the bus would broadcast its position, and riders could log on from a home computer or their own smart phone to better know when to be at their stop.

“You’d see a map and be able to say, “Here’s where I am and here’s where the bus is,” says transit rider and advocate Brett McCall who proposed the idea.

Hanna Raskin, who serves on the transit commission, said the group was “enthusiastic” about the idea and will research to see if the buses are compatible.

Reads McCall’s report to the commission:

“Asheville Transit staff has already identified the perceived unreliability of buses as a leading reason Asheville residents don’t ride the bus.”

McCall points out that last year, a report by consulting firm HDR reported that “the major reason for not taking the bus was due to scheduling issues.”

According to HDR’s numbers, “four days out of five, workers are waiting at their stops for six minutes or more—or missing their buses entirely because they’ve sped past their stops
prematurely,”  says McCall’s proposal.

Using a phone application like Glympse, argues McCall, is cheaper than utilizing traditional GPS technology. McCall envisions a pilot program for route one, also known as the Haywood Road route, and hopes to see an exploration of a public/private partnership tapping into businesses served most by that route.

Read Brett McCall’s entire presentation to Asheville’s Transit Commission below.

— Brian Postelle, staff writer

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Asheville Transit on Glympse
[last edit by Brett 1/6/2010]
Objective: Make bus riding more attractive and efficient by giving riders a
way to track Asheville Transit System buses in real time.

What is Glympse: A real-time situational temporal location sharing platform.

Timeline:
Pilot Launch – Pending Transit Commission approval on Jan. 13, at least one bus route will be configured to host Glympse for the month of February.
Beta Launch – The Beta launch, which will include all system routes, would ideally be scheduled for the week prior to Strive Not To Drive week in May 2010.
Case Study delivered – Case study completed and report delivered to the Asheville Transit Commission for approval on Mar. 10.

Supporting Research:
“The number one reason people don’t ride the bus is the inconvenience of waiting for a bus to arrive.” – Bryan Trussel, CEO of Glympse

Why Asheville?:
Asheville Transit staff has already identified the perceived unreliability of buses as a leading reason Asheville residents don’t ride the bus.
According to statistics gathered by HDR, the consulting firm which prepared the recently-approved Transit Master Plan, nine of the system’s 23 routes were “on-time” (meaning zero minutes early to five minutes late) less than 80 percent of the time in 2008. Route 8, which travels the Biltmore Road corridor, had an on-time performance of just 21 percent—and that was before current construction began. That worrisome figure means four days out
of five, workers are waiting at their stops for six minutes or more—or missing their buses entirely because they’ve sped past their stops prematurely.

In conjunction with the Master Plan, the Transit System conducted an online survey to poll non-riders on their opinions. As HDR reported, “the major reason for not taking the bus was due to scheduling issues, with nearly half of the respondents having some issue with the span, frequency, or speed of the service.”

There is no shortage of Asheville residents who want to ride the bus regularly. A startling 27 percent of riders surveyed aboard the bus in 2008 indicated “I prefer the bus over my car” or “I choose to ride the bus instead of owning a car.” But in order to retain those riders, the system must help them avoid missing buses or wasting time, a precious commodity for workers. It’s essential that riders have access to accurate, timely information.

Asheville Transit has already put a GPS system on its wish list. But the Nextbus system favored by staff is costly, and unlikely to be implemented anytime soon. As the system unrolls its new routes over the coming routes, it’s probable that on-time performance will initially decrease, as riders and drivers adjust to the radical changes. Providing riders with a reliable way to track their buses—and visually acquaint themselves with the new
routes—could do much to avert riders’ frustrations and make the Master Plan a success.

Pilot Case Study
Targeted demographics: Choice Riders* (riders who live in higher density center and have jobs in NGOs, education or public service. These people are typically well-educated
and relatively well-off.) High school and college students Working citizens who have the choice to drive or ride

Equipment needed (estimated budget $650):
GPS enabled Smartphone $200
Powersource for the phone $30
Dashboard phone mount $30
Signage on the bus $120
Data Plan (1 mo.) $110 + $35 activation fee
Website to host the Glympse of the Bus $0 (Glympse willing to host subdomain for trial http://Asheville.Glympse.com)

Marketing:
Use Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and mainstream news outlets to inform as many people as possible of the pilot & the website location. Create a button (or other visually arresting item) for riders to wear while Glympsing.

Measurement of Success:
Visits to the dedicated web page will provide some insight into how many people are investigating the system. Additionally, a sponsor might pre-purchase bus tickets which they could then resell at a discounted rate to riders who express support for Glympse: The number of tickets sold would be a good indicator of community enthusiasm. Finally, the web site should include a link to an online survey through which riders could submit their experiences.

Long Term Implementation notes:
Glympse’s implementation:
Modify Client App to allow for a single URL for each bus for the duration of the Pilot.
A single webpage showing the location of ALL participating bus lines.
Develop a widget for a phone that will allow a phone to “Broadcast” or “Stop
Broadcasting” with a single click. (perhaps a widget)

Local Development:
Build a Website to embed the Glympses of each bus and the single map of all the buses using the Glympse APIs.
Overcome any legal issues around broadcasting the information to the public.

Infrastructure Needs:
10+ GPS capable phones with unlimited data plans
Power source for each of the phones

More information

This is from a discussion on LinkedIn:

“Choice riders are the type LRT or BRT goes after. They are using a car but
would like to use transit if it means travel times are equal or better and
amenities are good. We’re talking typical service industry commuters. They
are also people who do it for environmental reasons. They live in higher
density center and have jobs in NGOs, education or public service. These
people are well-educated and relatively well-off.” ~Philippe Bellon on
1/8/2010

“80% of passengers that travel by GoTransit(Train, Bus) in Toronto are
Choice riders” ~Majid Babaie, MBA, PMP on 1/8/2010

 

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4 thoughts on “Has the bus come by yet? Asheville considers GPS bus tracking

  1. chris baker

    buses could be more on time as long as traffic and road conditions co-operate.i am wheel chair bound but prior bus driver in lsrger city for 10 years and re-tired.

  2. Marshall Hance

    The problem isn’t how far off schedule the bus is, it’s that there are too few buses to afford missing the one or so per hour. GPS tracking is akin to sending itunes gift card support to Haiti. Cute idea, just a tad removed and useless for most.

    Here’s a better solution:
    Raise property taxes on single family homes larger than 2,000sqft and buy more buses. It’s that easy.

  3. JWTJr

    Since we having money growing on trees around here, I can’t think of a better cause than using zillions of dollars to verify a bus is late.

  4. Piffy!

    This does really seem like a very stupid, useless idea.

    Instead of having a computer tell me the bus is 30 minutes behind, how about getting more buses?

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