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Wonder where your bus is? Check GPS

Tracking will give riders real-time route info

Posted: June 1, 2008 1:07 a.m.
Updated: August 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Within another year, a GPS system will track all of the city's 81 buses so anyone at a bus stop or with an Internet connection can tell where the vehicle is on the route.

 
Within a year, GPS technology will bring interactive electronic maps to some of the city's bus stops to give bus riders real-time updates on how long they will need to wait for their bus.

The Santa Clarita City Council this week gave the green light to hire New Zealand-based consultant Connexionz to install a transit information network on the city's entire 81-vehicle fleet.

The system will plot each city bus, including the 27 commuter buses, on an computerized map viewable by transit officials and the public.

The network will monitor each bus and compare each bus's progress with its schedule. When a bus is running late, the system will notify transit authorities as well as text message or call registered bus users on their cell phones.

By accessing the interactive maps available at some bus stops, customers can track their bus as it moves along its route. The computer will show the number of minutes they will need to wait for their bus to arrive at that stop. The computerized maps will initially be installed at 35 busy bus stops throughout the city, such as the stops at each of the Metrolink stations and those near libraries.

More could be installed as needed. The map will also be available on a city Web site.

"When we roll this out 12 months from now, customers will be able to see on a real-time basis through signs that are posted throughout the community or at their desktops on their computers where their bus is at and when it is going to arrive at any given location at any given time of the day," said Transit Manager Jeff O'Keefe.

Currently, bus drivers are required to call in via a two-way radio or cell phone if their route is more than five minutes behind schedule.

The city sends out alerts to e-mail addresses when there are major route detours or delays.

"I can sit on my computer and see where that bus is traveling and see how late that bus is that we can then direct the operations contractor to get something in place to get that vehicle back on schedule," O'Keefe said.

The new system will also give transit officials more accurate time estimates so they can update bus routes to reflect actual travel time.

"The biggest problem is when the travel time is 35 minutes in actual time and the time table says it's 30 minutes," said Robert Burke, president of Connexionz. "What actually happens is that all of those buses are running late. This is a problem that happens all over the world. Transit operators don't really have a lot of data to really fine-tune their timetables."

In Santa Clarita, O'Keefe said the city has a time checker who rides the buses every day to record travel times.

"It's a rather tedious task," he said. "The person is out there with a clipboard in the field."

Also included in the new network will be computerized voice announcements as buses approach their destinations.

Another feature of the system calls registered Dial-a-Ride customers in their home to notify them of delays or just to let them know their ride is waiting outside.

The majority of the cost for the $3 million network will be paid through federal transportation funds. Transit officials met this week with the consultant and O'Keefe said he expects the system will be implemented within nine to 12 months.

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