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Where’s the bus?

November 21st, 2013 11:46 am by Jennifer Sprouse

Where’s the bus?

Jeff Rawles using the new Ranger mobile data computer in a JCT bus. All Johnson City Transit fixed-route buses are now equipped with mobile data computers called Rangers, that send real-time data back to Transit headquarters. This information is also avai

The days of questioning how long you have to wait until the bus arrives are over –– for Johnson Citians at least.
On Wednesday, Johnson City Transit unveiled a new integrated technology system that includes real time information, text messaging capabilities and is linked in with Google Maps and Google Transit to ensure all riders have accurate and updated information while utilizing public transit.
According to a city of Johnson City news release, all JCT fixed-route buses now have mobile data computers called Rangers. Through an automatic vehicle location system and management software, information is available through a texting system and to JCT dispatchers.
“This device is on each vehicle in the fleet,” Jeff Rawles, Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization project manager, said during his presentation of the new system Wednesday. “What it does is it helps drivers capture ridership in certain categories as they board the bus and exit the bus. The previous method was a clipboard using a pen and making a tick mark, so obviously this was a great improvement for JCT.”
Another feature on the updated buses is an automatic stop announcement system that gives an audible stop announcement, as well as scrolls the name of the route stop across an LED screen mounted at the front of the bus, according to the release.
“The stops are automatically shown on this sign, in conjunction with being able to make the announcements overhead through the speaker system,” Rawles said. “This is a key component for Transit in terms of meeting ADA requirements for individuals with any type of limited sight or hearing disabilities.”
With the real-time information addition, riders can also send a text message to see the next three departure times for that particular route.
Rawles said during the presentation that all signs systemwide were upgraded, with the top part of the Transit sign featuring the schedule and the bottom half with text messaging information.
Those waiting on a bus to arrive can send a text message to 41411, and in the body of the message include the unique code on the sign. For example, a rider could text “jcts rd 1217” to 41411, which would translate as the South Roan Street and Highland Avenue stop on the Red Route. The system would then send a text back with the next three departure times.
To refresh the departure times sent in the text message, reply “R” to the message received.
“That’s the key of the real time information, it’s constantly updating,” Rawles said. “The bus might have been held up in traffic and so they’re a few minutes behind.”
He said JCT has also created a second website –– www.jctmyride.com –– that riders of the system can utilize several route planning and mapping options, including a “Trip Planner” that links to Google Maps.
The “Trip Planner” will instruct riders to enter a start address and a destination address with a “Depart now,” “Depart at,” and “Arrive at” drop down option, and then they hit “Get Directions” to link to the Google Maps website.
Also on the website is a “Transit Map” tab that will give you a visual map of a route’s stops, as well as a schedule component that will provide a rider with the standard schedules times of a specific route.
The “My Account” tab, Rawles said, could be useful for frequent riders.
“For anybody that maybe rides the bus on a daily basis ... for work five days a week and they catch the same bus every day at the same time, they can have this account set up to send them an automatic text message (on the bus’ updated departure times),” he said.
Rawles said no additional charges from will be assessed for using the text messaging system, other than each individuals’ own standard messaging charges.
The price of the new technology system –– costing approximately $585,000 –– was funded 95 percent from federal and state monies, as well as a portion of the funding included 100 percent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Rawles said the remaining 5 percent was funded locally, and said statewide, JCT is the third agency in Tennessee to release the Google Transit feature.
“This service has actually been incorporated in all of our fixed-routes here in Johnson City and our BucShot service at (East Tennessee State University),” Rawles said. “The system was ... implemented to make everything more passenger friendly, so they can get information in real time. Everybody has ... cell phones, with Internet access, most of the time, especially text messaging. It’s just an extra tool for us to be able to provide to our passengers.”
For more information, visit www.jctmyride.com or call 929-7119.

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