Mobile phone website will track transit

Wondering where your next bus actually is, rather than where it’s supposed to be? Well, now there’s an app for that.

Wondering where your next bus actually is, rather than where it’s supposed to be?

Well, now there’s an app for that.

TransLink is preparing to roll out a new mobile phone website that will allow bus riders to see their buses’ precise distance and arrival time to their stop using real-time GPS technology.

TransLink fitted all of its buses with GPS tracking devices in 2006, both to quickly locate buses in the event of an emergency and to keep the buses from unnecessarily bunching up along their routes.

But now, TransLink plans to allow the public to tap into its Transit Management and Communications, or TMAC, system via a soon-to-be launched mobile website by the end of the year.

TransLink spokesman Drew Snider said the real-time tracking feature could be rolled out by October, first as a text message relay system where riders can text the posted Next Bus numbers already displayed at bus stops. They would immediately get a reply saying where their bus is and when it’s due at their stop according to its current location, rather than its regularly scheduled stop time, which is given now.

After a trial phase, which could be limited at first to the city of Vancouver, the text message service could be rolled into a mobile website for smart phones or the two could operate in tandem to service the needs of more riders.

Cam Telford, TransLink’s expert on the Next Bus “2.0” system, said the real-time program has been approved by the TransLink board and gone through all of the necessary channels.

All that’s left is to work out a few of the program’s remaining kinks.

One such kink, he said, is how to tell the system not to broadcast a bus’ location when that bus has been redirected back to the beginning of a route to meet higher demand there.

“People would see their bus getting farther away from them and so that’s obviously something we’re trying to figure out right now,” Telford said.

The service would likely be of greatest benefit to areas such as the Tri-Cities and other suburban Metro Vancouver communities where bus service is less frequent than in downtown Vancouver and passengers rely more on connections with other buses and SkyTrain.

TransLink looked at the possibility of having a graphic map-based mobile site where riders could watch their bus travel along its route in real-time but decided such a site would be far too confusing to follow and too data-heavy for most smart phones to handle.

Toronto and Guelph, Ont. both have real-time bus tracking websites in the trial phases but Telford said TransLink’s chief sources of inspiration on the revamped Next Bus system were Seattle and Portland, which he said are considered to be at the forefront of accurate transit tracking systems.