Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Abusing gmaps: bus edition

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on January 23, 2008

The Tufts University Community Union Senate has made an initial effort to track one of its shuttle buses, the Joey, via GPS and Google Maps to make its arrival more predicable for students:

Most of the time the Joey is on schedule. But sometimes it’s not. We hope this simple tool makes it a little easier for you to plan your day. Using public transportation is a big step you can take to help reduce energy consumption.

Making public transportation more convenient is obviously a big part of encouraging its expanded use. The Joey runs every 20-30 minutes on weekdays, and although I don’t mind waiting around for a bus, that kind of delay could be a dealbreaker for some. I also can’t speak for how reliable the service is.

As I generally love anything that completely abuses technology and GMaps, I have to wonder if this could be expanded to DC. The automated NextBus system that would quote you estimated arrival times at certain bus stops at certain times was not terribly reliable. I believe it was a pilot program that is currently undergoing retooling for the next year or so.

The dial-in system is nice, as a high percentage of people own cell phones. However, it would be pretty great to be able to check online and see where the next bus is in real-time. This would be extremely useful, even from home, as there are some long, tortuous routes that run across the entire city (maybe you know the 30 buses, if you’re a DC-ite). In these cases, having a schedule can be useless. Most of the buses are already equipped with GPS for route announcements, but I have no idea what it would take to start tracking even one of them, let alone all. I have to assume each bus does not send out a distinct signal.

Cost-effective? Probably not. Completely awesome? Yes. A man can dream, can’t he?

3 Responses to “Abusing gmaps: bus edition”

  1. Joe Monaco said

    I just thought that I would respond to Evan Herrnstadt’s article of 1/23/08. The NextBus system installed in Washington D.C. has been placed on hold because the Metro’s internal systems that provide the NextBus system with GPS bus locations has proven not to be accurate enough for NextBus to create reliable predictions. The system has been turned off until the Metro can improve the reliability of its systems. And yes, all 1,500 of the Metro’s buses operating on all 337 bus routes and stoppinf at 12,300 bus stops are equipped with GPS tracking equipment.

    NextBus systems are working with high accuracy at 45 other public transit systems and 12 universities around the country,

  2. Jeff said

    I just got back from 6 months in San Francisco, and they have all of their buses (and light rail) on a similar system — very helpful, particularly during off-peak periods when buses don’t come very often. So, it can be done.

  3. Evan Herrnstadt said

    Thanks for the first-hand info, guys.

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