Dude, where’s my bus?

For transit customers, it’s a familiar question: “When will the next bus arrive?” The answer to that question is even more important for time-sensitive commuter trips or during periods of inclement weather. Nobody wants to be late for work or wait for long periods of time in the rain. In the Atlanta region, most transit providers only release scheduled, rather than real-time bus arrival data. What’s needed is open, real-time transit data, based on the current location of the transit vehicle.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation started releasing such data late last year and the results have been astounding. Within hours of release, developers began to create free bus arrival applications that transit customers could use on their computers and smartphones. Free-standing LED signs started to appear as well, at no cost to the transit provider.  These results and the overall advantages of collecting and releasing real-time transit vehicle arrival data to the public are outlined in the video below:

The benefits of releasing this data are documented in a Transit Cooperative Research Project survey which found that transit providers who release real-time bus arrival data enjoyed the following benefits:

  • An improved customer perception of bus service
  • Increased customer patience with service delays
  • Increased bus ridership
  • Increased system-wide ridership and revenue collection
  • Increased modal shifts toward public transportation

While motorists in the Atlanta region have had access to real-time travel information since the implementation of the Georgia Navigator in the mid-1990’s, such a system for transit has been slow to materialize. Local university transit systems are currently leading the way in offering real-time data, specifically systems that serve the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University.

Looking ahead, ARC’s Regional Transit Committee (RTC) is positioned to take a lead role in establishing a culture of open transit data in Atlanta. Much of the data needed to provide robust rider information services are already being collected by transit providers. The challenge lies in the creation of a regional framework for the collection, management and distribution of the data in a coordinated fashion. A key element of the RTC work program for the remainder of 2010 and 2011 is the establishment of a centralized transit data clearinghouse to serve all transit providers in the region. The clearinghouse is envisioned as a one-stop shop for planning partners and members of the public seeking transit data, and will serve as a foundation for future innovation in real-time rider information services.

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