A new "real time" app from TransLink may help you to avoid missing your next bus
It’s a well known fact that Vancouver City Hall is highly influenced by the powerful cycling lobby. Despite the fact pedestrians are supposedly the City’s number one transportation priority, they rarely get a mention from Mayor Gregor and his crew these days. The other cohort that’s seemingly been left behind at the bus stop over the last 2 ½ years are transit riders. You’d think If anyone would be seen as a key partner in helping to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world, it’s people taking electric powered trolley buses to work and school each day.
I’m hoping that Vancouver politicians can divert their attention away from defending separated bike lanes and tearing down viaducts long enough to focus on a few transit issues. That’s because a very promising new technology is coming before the TransLink Board for approval in about a month or so. Depending on the final tab, I hope it gets the nod. That's why it’s so critical that Metro Vancouver civic leaders get on the bus as soon as possible.
What I’m referring to is a new system being introduced that uses the existing GPS technology to vastly help improve customer service for bus riders. The current GPS system allows TransLink to monitor the exact position of their bus fleet in real time, however customers don’t have access to this same information. The proposed technology would allow for bus riders to find out exactly where their next bus is by simply using an app on their smartphone. How revolutionary!
Just imagine you bolt off the SkyTrain platform and want to catch your bus. You pray that it hasn’t left early and that it’s still there. If installed, this new technology would allow you to check out where your bus is while you’re actually still riding the SkyTrain. It would be a vast improvement on the current system offered by TransLink which merely tells you when the next bus is scheduled to arrive/depart – which we all know on crazy traffic days is not an exact science.
This added benefit is this technology would have a much bigger impact in lower density parts of Metro Vancouver that don’t have high frequency bus service. No longer would you have to wait a half hour at a wet bus stop hoping that your bus arrives before you get totally drenched. In the near future, you could check “live” where your bus is and head out at the appropriate time. What an improvement in customer service...that is if the TransLink Board of Directors approves the expenditure.
A service appropriately named “NextBus” is already being used in a number of cities where there buses are equipped with GPS. Check out this link to the City of Guelph transit where you can track each bus on its route. If Guelph can do this, surely Metro Vancouver can as well.
In about a month or so, TransLink’s Board will decide whether Metro Vancouver will join that growing list of transit regions using technology to vastly improve the customer experience. However, an affirmative vote is by no means guaranteed. As we’ve all read, Metro Vancouver’s transit authority is struggling to make ends meet. Investing in a costly bit of equipment that would help improve customer service might sound like a slam dunk, but it isn’t.
In my opinion, it will take pressure from transit riders and the media to convince the Board that this type of investment is worth their while. That’s why I’m hoping a few Vision councillors will take a few minutes away from promoting the virtues of separated bike lanes and help support this valuable initiative. Once they’ve done that, I’ve got a few projects related to pedestrian safety I’d also like to chat about...but I’ll leave that for another day.
I want to thank the CBC’s Theresa Lalonde (follower her on Twitter @theresalalonde) for doing a great job of covering this story a few weeks ago. Besides the CBC, I’ve yet to see another MSM outlet report on this, but there remains plenty of time.
A special thanks also goes out to Drew Snider who connected me with Cam Telford at TransLink who walked me through what the new GPS bus tracking system will and will not do for customers like myself. [Full disclosure of my conflict of interest...I'm a regular transit user.]
The actual staff report outlining costs and scope of the project have yet to be made public, but you can expect the system won't be cheap. If you’re like me and think it’s a good investment, take a minute to let your TransLink directors know you support it. You can reach them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a tweet to @translink stating “I support NextBus like technology as a way of improving customer service. Pls support it”. If enough of us reach out to the politicians and board directors, we stand a chance of getting this approved.
- Post by Daniel