By MELODY KARPINSKI
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Upgrades planned to Sonoma County Transit and Santa Rosa CityBus could make running errands and commuting a little easier for bus riders this
Both transit agencies are planning to implement real-time arrival and departure notification systems over the course of the next several months.
Sonoma County Transit’s system will allow users to check arrival status on their smartphones, laptops, handheld devices and at shelter kiosks, according to an agency report for the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
“The system we envision will provide real-time bus scheduling information via your smartphone, at signs and transit shelters,” said Bryan Albee, who manages the transit division of the county’s Department of Transportation and Public Works.
Santa Rosa CityBus was approved for a similar plan in July 2012, and has been in the process of installing a real-time system in several buses, said Jason Parrish, administrative services manager for CityBus.
CityBus, which has a fleet of 37, will have a system that uses predictive algorithms to update timetables, and then sends text alerts to passengers, Parrish said. Five city buses received the new system, which is from Pennsylvania-based Avail Technologies, on Friday.
Melanie Conner, who uses the transit system for her commute from Rohnert Park to Santa Rosa, thinks the change will be positive.
“I think the new upgrades will be great,” said Conner, who typically takes four different buses to get to her office in Stony Point Business Park. “We’ll be able to know if the bus is late (ahead) of time.”
Conner said the bus usually gets her to work on time.
“We didn’t want just the basics like telling us when the bus is coming,” Parrish said. “It’s an enhanced system that has a few additional things included.”
Parrish said Avail is creating an iPhone and Android app for CityBus that will include a feature allowing users to subscribe to updates of routes they take.
Other features in the City-Bus system will include the installation of QR codes at bus stops and automated passenger counters, which will allow the CityBus system to better track riders, Parrish said.
“We want to be as efficient as possible, so if we have bus stops no one gets on at we want to focus our resources,” Parrish said. “At the same time, we want to ensure vulnerable populations are receiving service.”
The Sonoma County Transit project, which the agency is calling the Passenger Information System, will cost around $353,000, Albee said. Sonoma County Transit serviced 1,372,442 passenger trips within the 2012 fiscal year, according to the report.
Riders of Sonoma County Transit have traditionally scheduled traveling around set schedules posted online or at transit stations, with no allowances for delays. The real-time system would help change this.
“It just makes the use of public transit more convenient and it brings real-time info to the passenger,” said Albee. “It’s not a paper schedule. It’s real-time information for when your bus is going to arrive.”
The change will be a good move and should make riders happier, said Joy Ng. Ng has been a city bus driver for more than 20 years.
The Sonoma County Transit system also will allow MTC to collect data from transit agencies to use for performance evaluation of routes, according to a report released by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Albee noted both San Francisco and Oakland have used similar GPS systems with success. The system will be installed in older buses and come standard in the county’s new buses projected to arrive next spring, Albee said.
Farlea McLaughlin, who moved to Santa Rosa six months ago, uses the bus five days a week.
“If you know how to read the bus schedule, you shouldn’t have a problem being late,” said McLaughlin. “The people who are late usually don’t know how to read the schedule.”
McLaughlin typically factors an extra 10 minutes into arrival and departure time to allow for delays. Her thoughts on the new system?
“I think that’s awesome,” McLaughlin said.
The Board of Supervisors approved Sonoma County Transit’s short-range plan with the GPS system on Feb. 25, but the actual contract for that system is still pending, Albee said.
Santa Rosa CityBus plans on moving forward with its system for the entire fleet within the next several months.