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Published: Friday, 3/2/2012

Locator lets rider know when bus will arrive

TARTA plans to put service to use in June

James Gee, general manager of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority. James Gee, general manager of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority.

Tired of waiting for a late bus? You'll soon be able to find out exactly when it will arrive electronically, and TARTA will have a better idea of where its buses' schedules have chronic problems.

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority's board of trustees approved Thursday a $1,124,044 contract with a North Carolina firm for an automated vehicle locating system that will track buses by global positioning and make the results available, via the Internet, to users of an array of electronic devices.

"This is the neatest thing we're going to do this year," James Gee, the transit authority's general manager, said after the board's vote to award the federally funded contract to Digital Recorders Inc. of Durham, N.C. "It's going to make information more accessible to everyone who uses TARTA or wants to use TARTA."

The system is expected to be in service by June, Mr. Gee said.

By entering a route number and a station code, smart-phone users will be able retrieve the estimated arrival time for the next bus, based on its current location.

"They're going to be able to punch that route up and see the bus coming down the road," Transportation Superintendent Tom Metzger told the TARTA board.

At a home computer, a rider can look up where all the buses on a given route are. Operations updates also will be available through an automated text-messaging system.

And even if you prefer talking to a good old-fashioned customer-service representative by calling 419-243-RIDE, the new system will improve the response you get, Mr. Gee said. After all, TARTA staff also will have access to instant bus updates, rather than having to call dispatchers who would then radio bus drivers to find out where they are.

"They'll know immediately if the bus is on schedule, they'll know immediately where the bus is," the general manager said.

Mr. Metzger, meanwhile, said the system may result in a lower official on-time rating for TARTA buses, but only because the current "time check" method the agency uses is very imprecise.

"It's going to be a good indicator" of how the transit buses are really doing, he said.

The real-time updates will not be available for Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service buses, Mr. Gee said, since they don't run on set routes and can be reassigned by dispatchers before making pickups. For TARPS riders, the transit authority already provides an automated phone service that calls when a bus is about five minutes away from the pick-up location.

Later in the meeting, Mr. Gee reported to the transit trustees that he expects Clifton Gunderson, the private accounting firm auditing TARTA's 2010 finances, to submit its findings to Auditor of State Dave Yost's office by Friday.

The transit board then convened an executive session to discuss an internal review of the reasons why the audit, which ordinarily would have been finished last summer, was delayed. TARTA President Bonita Johnson qualified the closed-door discussion as addressing a matter of staff disciplinary action, one of several reasons state law allows executive sessions to be convened.

Mr. Yost, who in January had declared TARTA's books "inauditable" because of missing documents and set a mid-April deadline, announced last week that all of the missing documents had been delivered to Clifton Gunderson, which in turn would make a report to the state.

Mr. Gee said Thursday he believed all the staffing and computer issues that he blamed for the 2010 audit delay had been resolved, and pledged that the 2011 audit will be completed on a normal schedule.

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

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