Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Talk about Moving LANTA Forward ...

We've just installed the most amazing technology!

It's the trend in the transit industry to purchase and install systems that track city transit vehicles via geographic positioning technology (GPS) that sends information via sattelite to central servers which then display exact vehicle location along bus routes on a Google-type map. Such systems have been available over the past several years in majors cities like New York and Chicago. Well, now this technology is coming to a bus stop near you!

In addition to showing the exact vehicle location, all bus stops along the route are shown and the system interacts with the bus, estimates speed and distance, and defines the estimated time of arrival at each stop along the route. This 'real time' information adjusts according to traffic conditions, weather - whatever affects the speed of the bus - to constantly update the estimated arrival times.

Check it out here in its current test mode.

The system LANTA has installed was designed and developed by Avail Technologies, Inc., of State College, PA. It is a state-of-the-art system that has been deployed in several communities in Pennsylvania. LANTA went out for competitive proposals on this project in 2009 and Avail was the successful contrator and has been installing the software and hardware for the past year.

As one can imagine, a project like this is not only time-consuming but involves a tremendous amout of data collection, input and management. As we've noted in articles previously posted here, the first step of the process was for LANTA staff to physically visit each and every bus stop in the Metro system and 'geocode' the stop. This created a latitude and longitude for each stop so that the system could define it as the bus traveled along its route. We learned that there are 2695 bus stops in the LANTA Metro system (trust us, we counted!)

Other tasks included the creation of a database in a scheduling management software so that each bus route was digitally defined and each vehicle had a unique identity. Hardware was installed on vehicles so that not only would the system 'find' the bus, but the internal electronic data management systems would work together to provide fare, schedule, driver and passenger information along with everything else. This allows Dispatchers to know not only where the bus is located, but how many passengers are on board and if the vehicle is on time and whether or not people are looking to transfer along the route.

In additional to obtaining information online, passengers will be able to view signs at major transfer points that show the real time buses are arriving and departing. A telephone number will be available so that riders can check whether the bus is on schedule or not. And, since so much information is being collected hour after hour, day after day, LANTA planners will be able to modify routes and schedules to respond better to passenger patterns and demand.

The system is in final testing mode now and should be available to the public within a couple of months. Accuracy of the system is obviously crucial, so considerable time is being taken to verify all data.

This system, used in concert with Google Transit, will provide passengers and prospective passengers with volumes of information to make travel on LANTA buses more reliable than ever before. No longer do riders have to trudge to bus stops and 'guess' when the next bus is coming along. They will know.

The benefits of this system are far too numerous to list here but suffice to say, LANTA has moved forward into the 21st in a very robust, hi-tech way!

Update 1/29/2011: The Morning Call's Road Warrior 'discovered' LANTA's venture into cyberspace technology. Click here to read his inciteful and accurate report.