Guelph gets moving on tracking system for transit

Guelph transit users won’t be waiting in the cold much longer.

The city’s transit department is rolling out an Intelligent Transportation System — which officials are calling the first of its kind in Canada – that will track bus locations in real time.

The City of Guelph, a city of 110,000 people located just west of Toronto, is rolling out the GPS/AVL and NextBus real-time passenger information system (RTPIS) from Grey Island Systems International Inc., which is being used in 40 cities across the U.S.

Predicted bus arrivals will be available to transit users over the Web, through an Interactive Voice Response system and via digital signage.

“Riders hate it if a bus is ahead of schedule – you just get to the bus stop and you see the back end of the bus going by,” said Keith Bellairs, project manager with Guelph Transit. “That’s a huge source of rider complaints.”

Buses also get behind schedule during bad weather, or even get pulled off a route because, for example, there’s too much ice on the road. With a centralized ITS system, passengers can time their arrival at a bus stop based on real-time information – and avoid waiting out in the cold.

Grey Island is in the process of building the system for the City of Guelph, which will be rolled out over the next couple of months. The initial contract, worth $344,650, covers equipment for 59 vehicles and three public electronic display signs, but does not include recurring monthly service fees.

Bus locations will be tracked via an automatic vehicle location (AVL) system. GPS-based hardware, including a GPS receiver and wireless modem, will be installed on all city transit buses. Location information is transmitted via a wireless network back to Grey Island’s data centre, which calculates predicted arrival times and then transmits those predictions to the City of Guelph.

Schedules can be a source of frustration to transit users because rarely do buses travel according to schedule, said Lisa Hunter, vice-president of sales with Grey Island Systems in Toronto. “Instead of a schedule, it’s actually providing real-time information.”

Users can go onto a Web site – currently under construction – to find out when the next bus will arrive at a particular stop. They can also set up Web alerts on their computer or text message alerts on their cell phone or PDA.

At bus stops, signs will be posted with a telephone number and stop code. Users can dial into an Interactive Voice Response system, enter the code and find out the predicted arrival time. Digital signage is also being used at key stop locations to list arrival and departure times, including the main hub at St. George’s Square, the University of Guelph and the Stoneroad Mall.

“There’s no new custom software to be written because we use the software that runs on their Web servers,” said Bellairs. “As soon as the units are installed, every bus will be communicating by cellular modem to the Internet to Grey Island servers, so the rollout is very fast.”

The city will also be able to update its current bus schedule. “These won’t be ideal schedules,” he said. “These will be [based on] how long it really takes at different times of day to do a run.”

But this isn’t a service that transit users will have to pay for. “It’s a service that the City of Guelph is providing to the public to increase ridership,” said Hunter. “They’re the first in Canada to launch this solution and we’re hoping to roll out across Canada with ITS funding becoming more prominent.”

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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