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Chicago’s Bus Tracker: Taking the Guesswork Out of Waiting for the Bus

One of the encouraging trends for American transit riders, in an otherwise bleak landscape of service cuts and fare hikes, is the growing number of agencies experimenting with ways to bring better information to their customers. Last summer Streetfilms explored how open transit data is helping to make riding the bus or the train more convenient in several cities.

Today's follow-up looks at how better transit data is benefiting riders in Chicago. The Chicago Transit Authority's "Bus Tracker" system is taking the mystery out of waiting for the bus, providing close-to-real-time information about when the next bus is coming. Riders can access this information online, on their mobile devices, and, in the Wicker Park-Bucktown district, in several cafes and shops.

<br> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br> <br> </p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Joe Iacobucci:</i> [00:04] Bus tracker is a real time arrival information for all of our buses at all of our stops in the system.  It allows customers to know exactly when the bus is going to arrive.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Tony Coppoletta:</i>  [00:13] Each bus has special hardware on it that gets the bus’s location using a GPS and other data that’s available and transmits it back to our server so we can show where our buses are.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Joe Iacobucci:</i>  [00:24] The Wicker Park Bucktown SSA came to us with the interest of putting screens within stores in the district.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Adam Burck:</i>  [00:31] When the CTA a few years ago launched the bus tracker programme, we wanted to be able to get it out into the community so that people could make use of the data that didn’t have smartphones.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Tony Coppoletta:</i>  [00:42] What I’m standing in front of right now is called the Do It Yourself Bus Tracker Display.  And so this here is a screen that we’ve set up in the lobby of CTA Headquarters that displays arrival times for buses at nearby stops.  It also gives weather information, time and temperature.  And so we also have for free on the website, any business can set this up with just as much as a simple netbook computer and a monitor, a slideshow that’s custom designed for their business.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Adam Burck:</i>  [01:09] There in different businesses, examples are Red Hen Bakery on Milwaukee just north of North Avenue, Café De Luca.  There are ten different sites, including this.  And now we’re looking at actually adding them to the CTA stations.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Joe Iacobucci:</i>  [01:25] Which is a benefit for the Chamber because they were able to reduce congestion while displaying community events and the things that help the district out.  For the business it gives a more of a connection with their customers who are stopping in for a cup of coffee or bagel on their way to work, and arming them with the information for Bus Tracker.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Speaker:</i>  [01:46] I’m at W Grocer at Wicker Park, Chicago, Illinois and we’ve got a bus tracker system up here at the front counter so that customers can come in and take a look, see when the buses are coming in.  It’s very helpful, it lets people know when the buses will be here.  Very helpful, especially in winter time when it’s so cold, people can stop in and know how much longer they have to wait for the bus.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Jamie Simon:</i>  [02:06] The idea is that if you’re passing by a café and you know they have the sign, you might go in and look and see you have five or ten minutes to wait and maybe you would make a purchase or, you know, if you have fifteen minutes, maybe you would browse at some books, make it a more seamless experience, and also it encourage people to take transit.  There is high transit ridership in the neighbourhood, but I think anything you can do to facilitate that experience and take the mystery out of riding the bus is really helpful for people.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font></p> Transcription Sponsored by: <a href="http://transcriptdivas.com.au">Transcript Divas Transcription Services</a>
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  • http://www.transloc.com Josh Cohen

    We've integrated in CTA bus data with GPS data from the University of Chicago bus system. Now, UC riders can see all the UC buses and CTA buses in one convenient place.

    Check it out at uchicago.transloc.com

  • v

    Great video, really makes the case nicely. Almost every bagel place in NYC has one of those terrible ad-serving displays...I would probably like instead of dislike them if every few slides I could see when the next bus/train would arrive.

  • Peter Skosey

    A great story of how the CTA is collaborating with local business to make transit more accessible. Great job to all!

  • http://holierthanyou.blogspot.com John Murphy


  • Jim

    Compared to SF Muni's Nextbus system, Chicago's system is far superior when comparing arrival accuracy.

    I also like how the system will tell you the number of the coach. I could use the bus number to report complaints to 311 if bus decides not to show up.

  • http://pingseo.byethost7.com/ images

    great job. very cool 

  • Jym Dyer

    @Murph - Totally achievable in SF, since NextBus is open data. In a city where everyone has two iPhones and a Droid, though, I think the populace would be more enamored of watching this on a hand-held app than a big screen festooned with ads. ;^)

  • Generalissimo

    Jim: To be fair, CTA is much more predictable than SFMUNI. I travel to a lot of cities, so I can compare. During the blizzards, NextBus was the only thing you could rely on in Boston and DC.

    SFMUNI is putting stop numbers on some stations, but not all. What can you expect from a system that's less reliable than cities in a blizzard?

  • Alex

    Jim: I think that was a reference to wanting something more reliable (and less heavily weighted to the supposed schedules) than NextBus.

    NextBus already has kiosk type displays for the metro, CTA style displays for the new Transbay Terminal, and shops like Rainbow have repurposed the NB web site to have almost useful in-store displays without all the advertising that the CTA is pushing.

    Unless of course that was a reference to the video ad panels on the sides of the buses. Bleh.

  • Alex

    Generalissimo: What about routes like the SFMTA's 66? There are, at most, two buses on that route at any given time. The route operates on generally uncongested roads, in an area fairly well covered by AT&T, and is relatively short. Yet NextBus predictions are STILL inaccurate and the on-board AVL still displays numbers instead of stop names.

    Or how about the 9th and Judah stops? They've got the fancy new non-shelter bus shelters with NextBus signs… except the signs are all powered off.

  • http://www.sustainablestandard.blogspot.com Paulo Couto

    This is a great use of technology and increasing the frequency of bus ridership and supporting the local economy. Increasing the use of data sharing will get more people to take transit.

  • John Murphy

    @Jym - I have an iPhone and I'd kill for this. The Embarcadero Station already has a monitor just like it. MUNI just needs to get it done.

  • Alex

    @Murph Like what, exactly? The nextbus web site (which should work with the iPhone, no?) displays predictions for other routes serving the selected stop.

    In terms of quality of information, it looks like the CTA has NB beat hands down. Take, for instance this gem from the CTA: "If a bus is unable to move for several minutes due to an unusual event (such as stopped by a freight train at a crossing), arrival estimates will switch from counting down minutes to a "DELAYED" notification. Once the bus begins to move again, arrival estimates will appear again."

  • John Murphy

    Alex -

    If I am at Martha's in Noe Valley, I might be interested in the J, the 48, or the 24. None of them share the same stops.

    Same for say Squat and Gobble in West Portal. K/L/M sure, but the 48 is there as well, but not the "same" stop.

    And my wife does not like me fiddling with the phone while we eat.

  • Alex

    Interesting. Does Routesy not do this sort of thing already?

  • Generalissimo

    Alex: I'm trying to follow you, but it's confusing. CTA's DELAYED feature makes no sense for Muni, with only 72% of buses on schedule. It makes sense in Chicago where schedules are posted at bus stops and the buses show up. But you talk like you have inside info about NextBus relying on schedules, except that makes no sense with the DELAYED feature you want.

    Also, you blame NextBus for not being hooked up in the new shelters, but that is ClearChannel's doing.

  • Generalissimo

    What I mean is, 1 out of 4 signs saying DELAYED would make the system less useful. I would not be able to use Muni if that went into effect.

  • http://gettingaroundmpls.wordpress.com Alex B.

    Interestingly - Madison WI has this service as well - not sure which agency got there first.

    Hopefully this is just the first phase of displays in bus stops too.

  • JT

    Needs a lot more access other than walking into stores and stations...not to sound lazy. There are a few smart phone APPs for Chicagoland transit services but I'm not sure how accurate they are.

  • olen

    this information system is designed to serve the needs of the wealthier citizens and only for those with access to technology.  how much do smartphones cost a month to be able to access this online?  if you're a minimium-wage worker who has no other option but to take the bus, you do not own a smartphone and you're certainly not going to be popping into a cafe every morning for a scone.  this is a very exclusive technology, so it is rightly coupled with advertisements.  there are options to text a code to CTABUS for arrival times, but again, not everyone has a cellphone or a text plan.  There still is no public signage for everyone at shelters indicating arrival times.  
    And let's be honest: has being able to know the arrival time of a bus improved your life or made the bus come any faster?

  • http://www.siamcitytrans.com/ รถทัวร์

    So I do.