Now, a tool to keep a tab on buses via cell phone

February 11th, 2009 - 1:40 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 11 (ANI): Hate waiting for your bus? Take heart, for two University of Washington students have developed a new tool that can allow you to keep a track of the vehicle using a cell phone, iPhone or computer.
OneBusAway, created by Brian Ferris, a UW doctoral student in computer science and Kari Watkins, a UW doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering since a year, already helps bus riders in Seattle to keep tabs on their buses.
OneBusAway has processed 20,000 automated phone calls since June, and the Web site gets an average of 1,000 hits a day.
People have found out about the tool on blogs, from stickers posted at a few UW campus bus stops, from a mention in a Seattle magazine and by word-of-mouth.
And to use the service Seattle, all one needs to do is dial 206-456-0609 from any phone, and hear a voice saying: “Where is your bus? Let’’s find out.”
After punching in the stop number, a computer checks a database of current bus locations, and the voice announces how long until your bus arrives.
Users can also access the system online at www.OneBusAway.org or using an iPhone.
“To people who didn”t even know this data was out there, they”re like, ”This is amazing.” It really changes the way they use the bus,” said Ferris.
Watkins, who works on transportation issues, said that research shows that removing uncertainty cuts frustration dramatically.
She and Ferris met through a transit blog and combined their expertise to create OneBusAway, though neither receives academic credit for the work.
“When people have to wait, they think that twice as much time is passing. So if you”re standing at a bus stop for five minutes, you perceive that time to be 10 minutes,” said Watkins.
Knowing the wait time changes the situation, she said: “If I know ahead of time, I can grab that cup of coffee and be back out in time to catch my bus. And that kind of information makes taking public transit so much more livable.”
OneBusAway is built upon MyBus, an online service that Ferris calls “the great granddaddy” of bus-tracking tools, but it is a more user-friendly tool that people could access while away from their computers. Ferris is gradually adding more features, such as over the Christmas break he added a feature for cancelled buses.
Also, they have built a prototype that integrates real-time tracking with the popular trip-planner feature now offered by King County Metro and Google Transit, and have come up with a trip planner that would adjust its recommendation depending on whether buses are running on time.
Another prototype finds businesses that can be easily accessed in a single bus trip, an idea that originally inspired the name OneBusAway.
“The goal is to one day have a whole bunch of different programs that would make transit easier to navigate. This is something the industry needs, not just Seattle,” said Ferris.
Eventually they envision offering a suite of bus-riding tools that any transit agency could connect to its database to encourage more people to use public transit.
Someday buses may be equipped with GPS antennas that would allow even better tracking.
Ferris says this project fits with his philosophy of using technology to support social causes, and it’’s a chance to create something that people like to use. (ANI)

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