There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Real-time transit info

I've been following some fascinating ideas over in the Google Group discussing Google's new transit mapping service. A guy in Lawrence, Kansas, has an intriguing idea about how to marry microtargeted advertising and transit.

"When we pitched this we did it as a vendor owned system. i.e. the [transit agency] gets a tracking system, we get a digital, location-based advertising platform. This means that we get to control the large LCD displays on the outside of the vehicles as well as smaller displays on the inside. ... The goal is to be able to provide a reliable broadband service on the buses in addition to providing location services and route planning."
This is cool.

As the bus approaches, say, Target, the LCDs on the outside of the bus and inside announce the specials of the day. It is like having a rolling billboard that reaches people immediately outside the store, which should be very attractive to merchants.

Meanwhile at the bus stop, a sign connected to the same system announces when the bus will arrive.

RT will have GPS tracking on the next group of new buses, but that doesn't do anything for the older coches.

RT is testing a sign system that could be used to alert riders about disruptions in service. Unfortunately, the signs they have put up at a handful of light rail stations are so tiny as to be useless. At 16th Street, the sign is near the boarding area for Meadowview and Folsom trains. Across two tracks and a half-block away, where people wait for Sacramento Valley Station and Watt trains, the sign can't be read. But even if the signs were larger and more numerous, the system won't be able to tell RT customers when the next bus or train will come along because, without the GPS systems, RT doesn't know where the buses and trains are.

What's especially attractive about Lawrence, Kansas, idea is that the transit agency doesn't have to shell out any money. The people selling the advertising cover the district's equipment cost.

The future for transit requires that people choose to use it. Real-time scheduling info at stations would bring more people onto buses and light rail.

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