A system that will allow transit users to know exactly when the next bus is coming is not a frill or the latest fad — it’s a service that will make transit more convenient and should attract more riders.
Technology that will allow real-time tracking of buses will come on stream in the next 18 months, the Greater Victoria Transit Commission has decided.
While schedules are posted at bus stops and online, those schedules are prone to being disrupted by such things as traffic jams, accidents, bad weather or Victoria’s lowered speed limits. It’s frustrating not knowing how long you will be standing at a bus stop, but through GPS and smartphone technology, you will be able to pinpoint when the next bus will arrive.
A bus that’s two minutes late is an inconvenience, but if the next bus is 20 minutes away, it can be a significant problem — it could mean missing a medical appointment, a business meeting or a university class. Having that knowledge means you can do something about the situation — make a phone call to change a meeting or find another mode of transportation.
Also, schedules change from time to time. In announcing changes in bus frequency on some routes in the region, the B.C. Transit website notes: “During December, there is less customer demand for transit service. Matching customer needs enables B.C. Transit to provide more service during the rest of the year.” The new system would enable passengers to keep current more easily.
This isn’t leading-edge or experimental technology. In planning for the new system, the transit commission checked how the technology was being used in Vancouver, York and Brampton, Ont., Grande Prairie, Alta., and Longview, Washington.
Those are just a few — many transit systems across the country and around the world already use real-time tracking, or are in the process of implementing it. Vancouver implemented its live-tracking system in 2012, while the Calgary Transit System had its system running in 2014. Some cities use third-party apps; others offer their own.
Many of these apps do far more than simply track the next bus. For example, these are some of the features of the Calgary system’s app:
• Know at a glance when your next bus or CTrain is arriving, in real time.
• See exactly where your transit vehicle is on the map in real time.
• Plan A-to-B trips with ease.
• View transit schedules and route itineraries, even without an Internet connection.
• Star your favourite routes for instant access to upcoming departures.
• Check service disruptions and changes, and register for push notifications for the routes you care about.
• Save home/work locations for quicker trip planning.
That might be unnecessarily complex for Victoria, but it gives an idea of the flexibility that GPS technology allows. The new system could be an opportunity for the transit commission to make other changes to improve service. Perhaps the call-out system implemented last year to help visually impaired riders find their stops could be fine-tuned.
Having the ability to know exactly when the next bus is coming is a good step in making transit more convenient. Anything that makes transit more convenient, comfortable or affordable will attract more users. Getting more people out of their cars and into buses is good for the roads and for the environment.