Metro Transit to install GPS tracking system allowing passengers to track bus

KALAMAZOO — David Jones has been riding Kalamazoo’s Metro Transit buses for the past six years and at times,running late,the 21-year-old college student is left wondering whether he’ll make it to the bus stop in time.

“Every time I think I’m going to miss the bus I have to call (dispatch) to see where it’s at,”he said.

But within the next two years,Metro Transit will begin offering a solution for the Kalamazoo resident to avoid making that call.

Riders on-the-go like Jones who use a smart phone or another hand-held device that can access the Internet will be able to track the location of their bus using global-positioning technology.

At its regular meeting Monday,the Kalamazoo City Commission approved a contract with Pennsylvania company Avail Technologies for a “Intelligent Transportation System” for the Kalamazoo Transportation Department,including for Metro Transit and Metro County Connect,a service that gives discounted fares to seniors and people with disabilities.

“Our ITS will use a minimum of 18 different technologies,”transportation director Bill Schomisch told commissioners.

“Bus schedules will be streamlined. People with visual impairments will be able to tell where the bus is while they are on the bus. Passengers will be able to tell when the bus will get to their stop.”

Among the functions of the new system:real-time bus arrival and departure information at major stops viewable on the department’s website and on smart phones;automatic versus driver-activated stop announcements;back-up cameras and other safety sensors and a monitoring system that can automatically alert transportation staff of potential maintenance problems.

Schomisch said the location of the buses will be visible to transportation department supervisors at all times.

Residents who use Metro County Connect,an “origin-to-destination”transit offering,should be able to get same-day service instead of having to schedule their trip in advance,he said.

“The system not only helps find the specific location of a waiting (Metro County Connect) passenger faster,it can allow the same-day service because dispatchers will know exactly where the vehicle is and can divert the vehicle for additional pick-ups,”Schomisch told city commissioners.

The Kalamazoo Transportation Department plans to use $2.4 million of $3.1 million in federal stimulus dollars the city won in 2009 for transportation projects on the GPS system. The total project cost is about $2.8 million,with the balance picked up by state transit grant funding,city officials said.

City commissioners,anticipating community concerns about spending millions on such a system when the city faces a budget crunch,stressed that the money will not come from the city general fund and is specifically earmarked to finance transportation projects.

Jones,meanwhile,said he likes the sound of having GPS tracking available. “It would take away a lot of hassle,”he said.

Contact Paula M. Davis at pdavis@kalamazoogazette.com or 269-388-8583.

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