Friday, July 12, 2013

Edmonton Unveiled Smart BusTechnology

EDMONTON - Worrying about late buses and deciphering transit directions may be a thing of the past thanks to a Smart Bus technology that Edmonton Transit System unveiled Thursday.

Forty-five buses operating on Routes 128 and 111 have been outfitted with the new technology, which offers real-time bus schedules, next-stop announcements and a reader board that displays streets and avenues.

“One of the things we hear a lot from customers and prospective riders is, ‘I like the convenience of my car because I’m in control of the experience,’ ” said Lorna Stewart, ETS director of technology and information management.
“We really need to make the transit experience more in control by the customer. This will take out the guesswork and reduce the uncertainty.”
The technology is now in use on Route 128 — University to Castle Downs — except for real-time bus schedules, which will launch in a few weeks. The technology will go in effect for Route 111 on July 18.

Transit officials say they chose those routes because their ridership is largely made up of tech-savvy post-secondary students.
The new buses feature mobile data terminals in the driver’s compartment and an antenna that communicates wirelessly to the transit control centre.

Drivers have electronic versions of their work assignments, which interact with the transit control centre and help them follow their schedules. In emergency situations, the transit control centre can pinpoint the exact location of a bus and get a live view inside.

Users can also sign up for email alerts for their routes if a bus is running late or expected to arrive early. Edmonton Transit will solicit feedback from users in the next few weeks as officials fine tune the technology.

“The one thing about our system is there’s 375,000 scheduled times every day in a weekday that a bus goes by a stop. It’s massive amount of data,” Stewart said. “It’s a lot of work to do that, to check the data to make sure it’s accurate.”
ETS is also installing signs in transit centres at the University of Alberta and West Edmonton Mall, which will display real-time departures for the two routes.

In January 2011, council approved the $3.4-million smart bus technology, the first phase of a three-phase project. Phase 2 will involve implementing the technology on the rest of the city’s 900 buses. That should take about two years if the funding is in place, said Stewart, who acknowledged that ETS has fallen behind in transit technology compared to other Canadian cities.

“It’s about priorities and limited resources,” Stewart said, pointing to the LRT as a priority. “Even though we’re a bit late getting in, the good news about that is we’ve been able to find technology that’s fairly well developed and proven in other centres so we won’t be on the bleeding edge.”

It will cost $19 million for ETS to outfit the remaining fleet with the technology. The city is also working to implement an electronic fare payment on buses, which the new fleet is equipped to handle. They’ll have to fork out $30 million for the project.
That funding is needed with ridership shooting up by 43 per cent in the past five years, said ETS manager Charlie Stolte.

“My projection is that we’re going to be looking at 100 million passengers by the next three years with the opening of the NAIT LRT station and this new technology that’s going out there,” he said.
“Right now we’re working with the Capital Region Board toward funding for a percentage of the smart fare system.”

Coun. Tony Caterina said he’s optimistic council will follow through with the funding.
“As a council, I think the commitment’s already been made that we’re going to go ahead with this once everything is sort of set in place for funding and timing,” he said.

ETS hopes to get approval for the smart fare funding by the end of the year.

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