by Ann Fowler
AUSTIN – Capital Metro is now offering customers access to real-time information on its entire bus fleet. The real-time data signals a minute-by-minute countdown at each bus stop for the next three bus departures.
The GPS-enabled real-time data allows the transit agency to more accurately track every bus on every route, every day. According to Capital Metro officials, this information will allow for specific system improvements and adjustments to be made on a regular basis in the future.
“We are delighted to introduce new technology, including real-time data for all our vehicles, and an open data real-time portal, to benefit our customers, encourage innovation by app developers and allow for better collaboration with other system providers,” said Joe Iannello, chief information officer at Capital Metro.
“Our customers will now have added reliability when traveling, with real-time next departures and trip planning using location data for all our vehicles.”
Dan Dawson, vice president of marketing and communications at Capital Metro, said, “Our riders have told us that this type of technology is relevant to how they live their lives. With real-time, customers have information that’s readily available to them on their phones, tablets or laptops, and they don’t have to wait at the bus stop wondering when their next bus will be there. Having real-time information helps riders reduce their wait time, while providing a whole new level of predictability.”
The real-time information can be tracked on the CapMetro App, at capmetro.org, through the GO Line at 512-474-1200, by text message or QR code, on the RideScout app and on Google Transit.
Oak Hill Flyer rider Tom Thayer thinks the new technology is a good idea for those who own phones that can take advantage of it. He told the Gazette, “I don’t have a smartphone so it won’t affect me too much…I don’t know if it will drive ridership, but it will make it more convenient for riders who have smartphones.”
For passengers on the Oak Hill Flyer and the South Mopac Flyer traveling directly from Oak Hill to a downtown destination, the new technology may be less important to those who need to catch connecting buses. While the new technology can help, the decision by Capital Metro to create separate stops for Flyers that are as much as a block and a half from connecting bus stops can make commuting by bus problematic.
Chris Curphey used to ride the Oak Hill Flyer every day, catching a connecting bus to his job north of downtown. He rarely rides now. He told the Gazette, “With low gas prices, rising fares and too frequently poor service, there is less incentive to ride the bus.”
Curphey said he tried using the Cap Metro app shortly after it was introduced, but found too many glitches to consider it useful. After being contacted for this article, Curphey went into the Cap Metro app and found “some definite improvements, but it still has some annoyances.”
He said, “The idea that I can receive arrival time calculations based on frequent, real-time GPS bus locations is appealing. I would likely rely on this until I find them to be grossly inaccurate for some reason. The key words are reliability and simplicity. Upon being confident in the arrival times the application provides, it would certainly enhance my desire to ride the bus.”
Curphey believes Capital Metro needs to work on providing better customer service. He said, “I have had numerous experiences of poor service with Cap Metro in the past and have lost my faith in the management of that organization. I believe they are out of touch with their customers. I will credit them with having a number of excellent drivers over the last three years, but there have been a few who were not the least bit customer service oriented…Because of poor training, a number of them had to be coached by riders as to the route that the bus is to follow.”
In fact last Monday, a substitute Flyer driver stopped the bus on Cesar Chavez upon arriving downtown, because the onboard computer indicated it was a timed stop. In fact, there are no timed stops once the morning Flyers reach the downtown area. Frustrated riders asked the driver to contact his supervisor. Minutes passed—as did connecting buses—before the Capital Metro supervisor advised the driver that the computer instructions were wrong.
Upon hearing of the computer problem, Melissa Ayala, communications specialist with Capital Metro, said, “As with any new system, we are reviewing and making adjustments to provide improvements. We have addressed this and you will notice in the next day or so a return to our previous system, maintaining best time.”
Said Curphey, “The real time arrival data is one improvement, but many are needed to make Cap Metro the efficient, customer centered provider that Austinites deserve.”
Certainly the real-time technology is a step in that direction. Capital Metro plans to upgrade the look of the desktop website interface in the next few weeks to make it even more customer-friendly. In late 2015, the agency plans to introduce new website tech features that will utilize the real-time information to include live maps that display every route with corresponding buses along the route.
How to access real-time:
On the CapMetro app/mobile browser—Tap the “Next Departure” button and then search by Stop ID# or route. CapMetro App users should update to the latest app version.
On the website at capmetro.org—Select the “Plan Your Trip” tab on the home page, then select the “Schedule/Next Trip” tab. Put in a location or Stop ID#, and also the time and date, then hit “Go.”