Nov. 29, 2010
New service helps bus riders get real-time route information via mobile devices
Iowa City, Coralville and the University of Iowa Cambus transit departments have launched an information system called Bus on the Go (or BONGO for short) that provides bus riders with real-time route and vehicle information via a smart phone, text message, website or telephone.
BONGO uses a GPS transmitter on each bus to send a signal every 10 seconds that updates the latitude and longitude of the vehicle along its route. That information is relayed in real time to an online map that displays the predicted arrival times for every stop, each of which is assigned a unique number. Stop numbers can be found online at http://www.ebongo.org and will eventually be posted on signs at each stop.
Riders can check bus locations and expected arrival times several ways:
--Using a handheld smart device (such as iPhone, Blackberry, Droid or Pre) or computer to visit http://www.ebongo.org. Additionally, users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR code on a bus stop sign to load up the bus stop web page on the phone's browser.
The passenger information system is designed to make transit riding more efficient, improve passenger safety and boost the convenience of area public transit services by relaying predicted bus arrival times. For instance, users can minimize the amount of time they spend outside in cold, rain and snow, or in locations that are not well lighted or very visible. Wireless Internet access is also available on all buses (SSID BONGO), where riders can also check http://www.ebongo.org.
By partnering on BONGO, Iowa City, Coralville and the UI are making the most of limited fiscal resources while improving the experience of using public transportation, an important goal given that about 6 million unique rides are made annually in the Iowa City and Coralville area -- more than anywhere else in Iowa.
"The top reason people don’t use public transit is lack of information," said Romy Bolton, project leader in the Campus Technology Services department at UI Information Technology Services. "We believe this system will make it easier for people to use public transportation and ultimately reduce the number of cars on the road."
Initial costs for the UI Cambus will be $125,000, plus $50,000 annually for operating the system. Iowa City's share is $120,000 upfront and $35,000 annually, while Coralville will spend $52,000 initially and $13,000 annually.
Technology for BONGO is provided by NextBus Inc. and is currently in use by transit agencies across the country, including San Francisco MUNI and the Washington, D.C., Metro system.
"At universities where this type of service is offered, it’s the No. 1 hit on those campus’ mobile sites," Bolton said, adding that her team studied the implementation of this kind of system at MIT, North Carolina State, Duke, Emory and the University of California-Davis.
More than just a passenger convenience, the BONGO system allows area transit management and bus dispatchers to track and monitor their vehicles and operators to optimize transit schedules and streamline service. Data from automatic passenger counters will be used to evaluate current routes and stops. And engine diagnostics will provide transit management with real-time information on engine variables to identify maintenance issues before they become serious.
Transit officials also hope the system will improve customer service and reduce the number of passengers asking for bus locations and arrival times.
In future phases of the BONGO project, route update messages may be posted to electronic signs in heavy foot traffic areas such as the Iowa Memorial Union, Coral Ridge Mall and Old Capitol Town Center.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242
MEDIA CONTACTS: Romy Bolton, UI Information Technology Services, firstname.lastname@example.org; 319-335-6039; Vicky Robrock, director of Parking and Transportation, City of Coralville, 319-248-1790, email@example.com; Chris O'Brien, director of Transportation Services, City of Iowa City, 319-356-5151, Chris-OBrien@iowa-city.org; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012, firstname.lastname@example.org