It is well known to any Penn State student that the Center Area Transit Authority’s services are particularly useful for getting clear across campus or avoiding walking in inclement weather. Their bus service is much more efficient, extensive, and effective than many other university and metropolitan services. The one thing that I have always wondered is whether they could hook up GPS (Global Positioning Systems) to the buses so riders can have a real time view of where the buses are in relation to them. This is particularly useful for when there is inclement weather and the bus service schedule is running behind.
When a Google search provided little information about the progress, or even a description of the project, I emailed CATA directly. I got in contact with Eric Bernier who is the Service Development Manager for CATA. The information he relayed to me was very exciting. First, the project is still going strong. They have hardware connected to all the buses and the infrastructure for communication is in place. He told me that they did not anticipate the number of serious bugs due to the complexity of the entire system. They do, however, have a working draft of the project. It currently updates once every minute for information about all the “Letter and Link Buses” What the service is missing is information for the Blue and White loop, which are perhaps the most used bus route in State College. I have inquired about the two missing bus routes, and will update this post when the information becomes available to me.
The draft website seems to be pretty functional. The link to the working draft is here. When this service is up and running, it should be delightfully useful. I forsee tons of riders using this and hopefully they will exand and extend the service. In the future, some kind of text message based alert system could be introduced. For this system, a rider would send a query to the system with information about what stop they are interested in and which bus route. The system would then return how many minutes are left until the next bus stops at the desired location via text message. Additionally, I see this platform being very “mashable”. Enterprising students could add functionality to the prexisting setup since it appears to be done via Google Maps. In terms of specifics of extending this platorm, students could make it show delays, traffic jams, provide a live video feed of a given bus stop, and any number of really cool things. This can only work well if they allow people to view the raw data with the web service.
UPDATE: July 29, 2008
Eric Bernier replied to my message from a while ago with updates on the tracking situation for the blue and white loops:
Right now the two LOOP routes operate on headway based system using a countdown clock. This was done to maintain the spacing between buses versus a fixed schedule. We are trying to find a way to still project arrival times for those routes even though they don’t have fixed schedules. We hope to have something worked out soon.