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County, Santa Rosa riders to get real-time bus information

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

Melanie Conner looks at Facebook while riding the Route 6 Santa Rosa City Bus on Monday, April 8, 2013. (CONNER JAY/ PD)

Melanie Conner looks at Facebook while riding the Route 6 Santa Rosa City Bus on Monday, April 8, 2013. (CONNER JAY/ PD)

summer.

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.





4 Responses to “County, Santa Rosa riders to get real-time bus information”

  1. pete says:

    Maybe if they put that money into drivers and buses they would just be on time and wouldn’t need the stupid app.

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  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Paul-I already walk. Don’t own a car anymore and the city bus stop is a mile from my house.

    I’m upset that they cut the route out to Bennett Valley to hourly with 2 schools, 2 hospitals, Silvercrest Senior center, 2 rehab hospital on the route. I made suggestions that they found had “merit” but they were going to keep their original agenda and “we’ll see”. They only responded because I went in front of the city council and told them that the city bus managers didn’t respond. Got a letter 2 days letter.

    Those managers stood in front of the city council and told them they got lots of input from the meetings they scheduled with the publi but they were going to keep their original decision. Then I find that they had $353,000 of the $500,000 they were short in order to keep the routes.

    Is it a wonder I’m mad?

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  3. Paul says:

    Mockingbird, look on the bright side; you have a $353,000 app that will instantly tell you that your bus won’t be there! That’s management, Sonoma County style! Enjoy your walk! It’s green, and it’s good for you! Just like their fat paychecks and retirement payola is GREEN!

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  4. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I was angry, now I’m really angry. They have $353,000 to put towards an ap to find out if buses are on schedule, yet they were $500,000 short so they cut bus routes. I ask you, WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT? Accessibility, reliability, and necessity for those who have no other choice?

    I can’t believe it. It’s like the managers making these decisions just don’t understand. I advocate they lay those managers off who make these decisions and use those funds to the bus routes. I also believe that those managers, who have nice cars and free parking behind their work building have to ride the buses everyday to and from work for a month including doing errands and getting to their appointments. THEN LET THEM MAKE DECISIONS.

    As far as I’m concerned those managers are a waste of space and money.

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