Campus buses install GPS tracking system

New technology will make bus arrival times more predictable.
By
  • Cody Nelson
September 05, 2012

Eryn Adams sometimes missed class in St. Paul during spring semester, waiting for a Campus Connector to arrive.

Starting this fall, University of Minnesota students like Adams will no longer need to risk class tardiness by using the campus buses.

A new GPS tracking system will allow students and staff to see when the next Campus Connector or Circulator or BDD Shuttle, for Academic Health Center employees, will arrive by using their computer or cellphone.

NextBus, a system installed in all University buses this summer, is funded by campus parking fees and costed about $300,000 for hardware installation and startup costs.

It’s accessible online at the University’s Parking and Transportation Services website, where users will find a fully interactive map.

The map displays information such as highlighted routes, approximate bus location and the remaining capacity. In addition, each stop is clickable and gives the estimated arrival time for the next three buses scheduled.

While away from the computer, smartphone users can take advantage of a mobile website and QR codes available at each stop.

Estimated arrival times for buses at each stop are available by calling or text messaging with a corresponding stop number.

Full instruction on how to use mobile features, as well as a complete list of stop numbers, is available on the PTS website.

Initial interest for implementing the NextBus system originated with the Minnesota Student Association.

MSA president Taylor Williams said that the idea for implementing a bus-tracking system came from Indiana University while at a conference of other Big Ten student associations near the end of spring semester.

After hearing of Indiana's success with a bus-tracking system, the idea was pitched to staff in PTS, who were “extremely receptive” to MSA’s proposal. The administration quickly responded and began making the idea reality.

Work on the project began spring 2012, according to Jacqueline Brudlos, PTS spokeswoman.

The project started with the installation of NextBus hardware, which operates using GPS satellites and phone towers, and continued through the summer with some initial testing. The system was only made public late last month.

Public response to NextBus has been positive so far but limited due to the lack of students on campus, Brudlos said.

NextBus will be especially important in the winter, Williams said. He called the system a “convenient service” and said it will be nice to have estimates for bus arrival times to avoid long outdoor waits come colder weather.

University junior Brianna Lauer said the system will be useful, especially with knowing the estimated seats filled on each bus.

Lauer said that not many students know about NextBus and said that it “should be advertised more.”

Adams said it will be useful for current students to ensure they arrive at class on time.

Although Brudlos is unsure how many students will use the system, she said NextBus is a step in the right direction for PTS.

This is the first time a bus tracking system has been implemented by the University.  Because of this, some technical difficulties are expected during the first few weeks.

Parking and Transportation officials are asking for users’ “patience and understanding as we roll-out this service.”

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