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Davis, California

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Unitrans considers bus tracking systems

You hit your snooze button for the third time and suddenly realize you have 10 minutes before your next class starts. You clamber out of bed, jumping around and stabbing a leg through each pant leg while attempting to read the blurry lines of numbers on the bus schedule. As you try to figure out which bus you could catch, you take a chance and hope the bus that arrives in less than a minute will be late.

This game of chance could soon become a distant memory, as Global Positioning System mass transit tracking systems are beginning to be launched through the country’s university campuses.

GPS mass transit tracking is a system designed to trace the location of city buses and provide real-time information on the position of the buses to passengers.

Travelers can access the real-time information on the location of the buses on the Internet. A detailed map of the city is presented on the screen, and a balloon-like symbol portrays the buses’ actual movements in time.

TransLoc Inc., a company that specializes in transit tracking, has helped launch and operate this kind of technology.

“We install a global positioning device on each bus that sends information about each bus’ location to our servers. The TransLoc Transit Visualization System (TVS) continuously displays the location of vehicles and animates their motion against a detailed map of recognizable campus buildings and landmarks,” said Josh Cohen, a representative at Transloc Inc., in an e-mail interview.

Due to various traffic jams, road construction, accidents and other unforeseen incidents, it is difficult to provide accurate scheduling as to when buses will arrive at their designated stops. This system will allow users to select their desired bus route as well as their location of pickup. The system allows riders to have more control over their schedules and waste less time waiting for the next bus to come around.

TransLoc TVS has made waiting for the bus more comfortable, more convenient and safer,” Cohen said. “Because students can access the real-time information on the location of the buses on the Internet, on their cell phone or in a major campus gathering place like the Memorial Union, they can have more control over their time. If a rider looks online and sees her bus on the other side of campus, she can go pick up lunch with confidence, knowing she will not miss her bus.”

The tracking system features not only a map tailored to the campus and real-time transmission of the buses’ locations, but it also has an announcement feature for administrators to post information about detours, route changes and emergencies.

Management can post reports to track on-time performance and vehicle usage.

“It also gives the manager the ability to see where [the buses] are and to slow them down or divert empty ones so as to keep the optimal flow,” said Ed Bebyn, manager of parking and transit at Yale University in an e-mail interview.

Along with Yale, a number of universities across the nation have implemented the tracking program into their transit systems.

Adele Clements, Director of Transportation at Emory University, thinks the tracking system has been an extremely valuable tool for the campus, the community and the shuttle management.

“There haven’t really been any downsides,” Clements said. “Occasionally, there is a technical glitch in the transmission of the location of a bus, but this is rare and is always addressed in a timely manner by the vendor.”

The cost of implementing the system can vary. According to Cohen, the number of buses, geographic size of the transit system, the number of routes and stops, and the number of riders all affect the cost to install and operate TransLoc TVS.

The managers at Unitrans, the UC Davis transportation system, have been interested in this type of tracking system for several years, though the system’s cost and effectiveness have kept them from implementing the system into Unitrans services.

Anthony Palmere, the assistant general manager at Unitrans thinks this kind of system is necessary.

“[Customers] don’t have to wait as long at the bus stop and there is less anxiety when you have some idea when the bus is coming,” said Palemere in an e-mail interview. “From the operators’ perspective, it provides much better information for making decisions in dispatching service and evaluating on-time performance.”

Unitrans has yet to determine how the system would be put into practice, but Palmere feels that possibly it will be phased in.

Initially, the real-time tracking would be available at the dispatch office to help in allocating service more efficiently in response to delays. The system would then be made available to riders through the Internet and handheld devices. Eventually, Unitrans would like to be able to report real-time information on display screens and kiosks at terminals and major stops.

A downside to this system is the cost. There is a very wide range of costs, depending on the functionality of the system, from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars.

“We have grant funding of $600,000 to get an initial system in place, so we will see how much that gets us,” Palmere said.


YASSMIN ATEFI can be reached at science@californiaaggie.com. XXX



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