Bustracker Realtime ETA Unleashed

Bus Tracker on Smart Phone

This is a screen capture of bus tracker on an Android type smart phone. A third ETA can be reached by scrolling down on the phone

Now you can find out when your bus will arrive at your stop based on real time GPS data using Bus Tracker.  People who don’t ride the bus don’t know how wonderful this is.  They haven’t spend hours waiting at bus stops.  We do.  It’s revolutionary for a lot of reasons.

Without the Wait and Wonder

If you want to take the wait and wonder out of transit, now you can.  If you like chilling at the Mary Street Transit Center, Superstop or those concrete benches on Houston Northcut near Mt. Pleasant town hall, that is your choice.  We’ll meet you there five minutes before the bus arrives.

First, you use Google Maps to plan your trip.  The age of fighting maps with different scales and uncoordinated landmarks, doing the math and guesswork on the schedules, going to your stop and wondering when your bus will arrive and sometimes getting lost are now over for anyone with internet access or a smart phone.  If you do don’t paperless, make sure you have the new Schedules for the 40 Mount Pleasant Bus and 41 Coleman Blvd. Bus  issued on Feb. 2013.

Second, Get somewhere near your stop and fire up Bus Tracker on your tablet or smartphone and wait somewhere comfortable for the bus to get in range.   Select CARTA and the Route your stop is on from the pull down lists.  You need to select the the direction your traveling in.  It will load a list of just the stops on your route in a few seconds after you have selected your route and direction.    Once you have the route, direction and stop in, in a few seconds you get a list of the next three times a bus is expected at your stop.  You can click the green refresh link every few minutes to get an updated time until your bus arrives.

While this system is real time, the bus can arrive any time that it is indicated being within 5 minutes of your stop, so you should plan to be at your stop by then.  The bus only sends out its location every 30 seconds, which then has to be sent through the cellular network, put through the program with the other traffic data and finally delivered in response to your query.  Usually Bus Tracker is accurate to within two minutes.

On your smart phone, the system is expressed in a somewhat limited way, performing like s simple application.  You get a simple number of minutes before the bus is expected at your stop, and a vehicle number for the next three buses expected at that stop.  However on a desktop, there is additional functionality, allowing you to watch buses on the route your checking move around the system.  You can mouse over the green arrow button for the bus and find out the last time the GPS transmitted it’s location and the speed of the vehicle.  Mousing over a bus stop gives you the name of the stop.

If you don’t have a smart phone and you ride the bus, go buy a used one for fifty bucks now if you can.  A two year old model will work fine.  Get an Android phone if you can, an Iphone if you think you have to.  Android’s Google Maps driven transit navigation is clearly superior to Apple’s options, which in this case rely on Google transit data.  (I own both an Android phone and an Apple Ipad.)  Apple omitted transit services from it’s new OS last year to avoid paying Google for the data and got fierce resistance from transit riders around the world before putting it back in.  Google is clearly committed to serving the transit rider.  A new version is Google Transit has just been released, which gives you timelines for alternative trips, as well as instructions and maps.

If you want to be a small scale hero, look up ETAs for other riders at your stop and let them know when their bus is coming.  Remember, transit is a journey we make together.

A bus driver proudly stands next to a bus stop sign on a beautiful day in sunny Charleston, South Carolina.

CARTA 40 Bus stopped inbound at Mount Pleasant Hospital, near Wando High School.

Veolia Shadow means more than knowing when your bus is going to arrive at a stop.  Veolia now knows where every bus on the CARTA system is in real time, it’s on time status, speed and direction.  All of this can be sorted by route, driver and location.  Anything which is late gets flagged automatically.  It’s a laser guided system to making on time the standard.  If some of the more relaxed drivers look a bit stressed now, Veolia Shadow is why.

On Time and Under Budget

Systems which do what Veolia Shadow does have existed for years, but lack of funding prevented them from being implemented here.  The unsung achievement in Charleston is that Veolia, as the result of a contract negotiated with CARTA, managed to leverage cheap GPS equipment, the cellular network and its own proprietary operations software to achieve something which used to cost millions of dollars.  The Amalgamated Transit Union (Bus Drivers Union) adjusted it’s work rules to support movement towards better on time performance as well.  Everyone is committed to getting on time and staying there, despite the traffic, and letting everyone know if it’s happening or not.  Implementing the industry standard, off the shelf solution, just for the Express bus system alone, would have cost over half a million dollars.

The Veolia Shadow/CARTA Bus Tracker system is new. It only works when the buses are running.  No data reports at 2 am, so it won’t tell you that your bus will be arriving in six hours when the vehicle is shut down and parked at the CARTA storage yard on Leeds Ave.  It starts working when the bus cranks up.   It sometimes struggles with localized cell network bandwith issues, common downtown near the College.  Use WI-FI when you can.  In the future we’re expecting arrival time displays at major stops, scannable QR code signage to bring your smart phone directly to information for a stop location and a dedicated app to make it work faster and better when we’re on the move.

Now all we have to do is get those SUVs driven by amateurs out of the way and we can move this community.

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