Apps by Georgia Tech, MARTA, Improve Transit Experience

kariwatkins_bus_rotater

Georgia Tech assistant professor Kari Watkins

The mobile app OneBusAway, which tracks public transportation in real time, now includes arrival times for MARTA trains in addition to the MARTA buses and Georgia Tech shuttles already featured in the app.

The app pulls GPS data from buses and trains and provides real-time arrival and departure data on users’ smartphones, computers or on large video displays in stores or public areas. The app was integrated into Atlanta’s transit network by Georgia Tech researchers last year. The app’s developers plan to add bus data for Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) Xpress, Cobb Community Transit (CCT), Gwinnett County Transit, the Atlantic Station shuttle, other local university systems and other systems equipped with GPS tracking capabilities.

“This app helps people who want the information before they get to the train station or bus stop,” said Kari Watkins, an assistant professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech. “For bus and shuttle stops where there is no sign for next arrivals this app is the rider’s only source of information.”

OneBusAway is free to download and offers information on transit systems in Atlanta, Seattle and Tampa. The app automatically recognizes which city the user is in, and captures data from the local transit source. The coding for the transit-tracking app was used to develop New York City’s MTA Bus Time.

The app gathers real-time location data by tapping GPS units already installed on buses and trains. Recently, MARTA made their GPS data publicly available so that software developers might use it to build apps and other tools to improve the rider experience. Riders can search OneBusAway for nearby train and bus stops and receive up-to-the-minute arrival and departure information.

MARTA also has a real-time transit-tracking app that provides information exclusively for its bus and train network.

“One of our priorities is improving the overall customer experience through the use of technology,” said Keith T. Parker, MARTA’s CEO. “That’s why we launched the On-the-Go mobile app providing real-time train and bus arrivals. We’re also excited to work with OneBusAway, and the metro Atlanta tech community, in developing solutions that will help retain and attract transit riders.”

OneBusAway’s ability to combine data on multiple transit agencies in the Atlanta region might be one way to attract riders, by helping them transfer more easily between transit systems.

The idea behind the app is to take a lot of the guesswork out of riding public transportation. When riders are still at their desks, at home or in a coffee shop, they can open the app on their smartphone or computer, search for nearby transit options, and know exactly how many minutes they have until the next bus or train arrives.

Someday, Watkins envisions, transit riders will have an app that knows their route to work, what time they want to arrive, and sends alerts if a bus or train is going to be early or late.

“We’re all figuring out how we can optimize what we have and make better use of the space that exists,” Watkins said. “Even those who aren’t environmentally minded recognize the congestion and space issues and are tired of it. We have to make all our modes function better, which includes providing better information.”

Download the free apps for AndroidiPhone and Windows Phone or visit atlanta.onebusaway.org for more information.

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