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Published: Monday, 9/16/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

TARTA Web site, phone app now live

Users can keep tabs on locations, arrival times

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The TARTAtracker.com Web site appears on a computer. The site also is optimized for mobile devices, and an app will be available for iPhones and iPads. The TARTAtracker.com Web site appears on a computer. The site also is optimized for mobile devices, and an app will be available for iPhones and iPads.
TARTATRACKER.COM Enlarge

It has taken months longer than expected to get up and running, but the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority has finally turned on its bus-tracking Web site and smart phone app, and plans to begin promoting it next week.

The TARTAtracker.com system should make waiting in the rain for a late bus a thing of the past in Toledo.

Not because buses won’t ever be late, but because riders will be able to track their progress with the real-time location data now available to the public.

TARTA Tracker shows the position and progress of every transit authority bus out on the road and offers up-to-the-second updates on when the next bus is expected to arrive at any bus stop a system user chooses.

“It’s real-time. It’s constantly getting data from the buses,” said Steve Atkinson, the transit authority’s marketing director.

That predictive function, TARTA General Manager James Gee explained, is why the system has taken longer than the spring start officials once promised.

To be accurate, he said, TARTA Tracker needed to observe how buses run on an everyday basis, so it could recognize when traffic slowed them.

“We needed to develop a performance history,” Mr. Gee said. “With construction like we had on Secor Road, the system notices change, and that gets built into the prediction.”

The first part of the $914,284 system, developed and installed by Digital Recorders Inc. of Durham, N.C., to go live was the bus-status signs at half a dozen stations, which were turned on three months ago — instead of January, as first expected.

The official rollout for TARTAtracker.com is planned for next week, but the transit authority activated it several weeks ago in a “soft launch” to see how well it worked and make any adjustments they deemed necessary.

“There have been a couple of things with the Help page and with its scrolling that we’ve had to tweak,” Mr. Atkinson said.

At Park Station on Friday afternoon, several bus riders said the system sounded promising, even though they couldn’t get it to call up the next bus for their particular routes when they visited the Web site.

“That would be great. The 32 has been late because of construction on South Street,” noted Maryann Gabany of West Toledo, who uses that route as part of her daily commute.

Ms. Gabany was particularly interested in the availability of a text-alert feature, because the day before, her bus home never showed up at Park and she and several others had to wait 45 minutes for the next one.

The online information also could be “very helpful to new riders,” she said.

Christina Fonseca of East Toledo said TARTA Tracker could be especially useful “on weekends, when no one’s at the station, and you want to know what time the bus is coming that you want.”

Mr. Gee said he expects the bus locator to be the site’s most popular feature.

“When you walk up to a bus stop, the first thing you want to know is, ‘How long will I wait?’ ” he said.

TARTAtracker.com is a “mobile friendly” Web site, so no specific app is required to use it on a smart phone, but for those who prefer one, an app called TARTA FindMyBus is available — for Apple devices only.

But even people who don’t use smart phones will benefit from the system.

They can check their buses’ status by computer before they leave their homes, workplaces, or any other place with Internet access.

And even those who have no computer access at all will get better information when they call TARTA for service updates, because the agency’s customer-service representatives will be able to use TARTA Tracker too instead of having to ask dispatchers to call bus drivers for their locations.

System data even offers opportunities for TARTA to improve service, Mr. Gee said.

With the system automatically logging where passengers board, TARTA will have more precise ridership data. And better tracking of buses’ running times is information “which we can use to make better schedules,” he said.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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