TCAT this week announced the official release of real-time information to its passengers via mobile apps and on its web site as part of a $1.5 million Information Technology/ Intelligent Transportion System (IT/ITS) project.
TCAT contracted with Avail Technologies, Inc., based in State College, Pa., for the project, which was launched in February, 2016. The project was mostly funded by the City of Ithaca and partially with federal dollars.
In addition to the real-time Bus Tracker on TCAT’s website, Avail’s free MyStop app for smart phones, TCAT is working with third-party developers to make its data available in several highly-rated mobile apps that are often used around the country. One of the third-party apps now available to TCAT riders is the free and internationally lauded Transit app, which has a trip-planning function.
As soon as TCAT’s data is accepted by Google, Google Transit travel planning information will also be available to TCAT riders. (TCAT’s trip planner on its web site has been removed, but a new-and-improved version is coming soon to Bus Tracker.)
“Everyone has preferences about what types of interface they like to work with and what they’re really trying to get out of an app; we are especially pleased and very grateful that Transit’s team went above and beyond to have their app available to TCAT riders at the start of the real-time rollout this week,” said TCAT Service Development Manager Matt Yarrow, who is managing TCAT’s side of the project.
TCAT’s service area includes Cornell University and other institutions of higher learning to include Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3). Students in particular have long been asking for real-time information and have also been requesting the type of data now available to develop apps for TCAT. (A point of interest: Montreal-based Transit’s Chief Operation Officer Jake Sion studied at Cornell and used TCAT before graduating in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies and international relations. He was a TCAT rider who wanted real time information.)
TCAT offers many types of service, including campus, urban, suburban and rural, “and as a result, for a community of our size with a population of approximately 102,000, our service offerings are complex,” Yarrow said
“It’s a big learning curve for people who are coming into a transient college community to really understand our system just at a glance,” Yarrow said. “That’s why these apps will be a huge benefit for our ridership.”
In the coming weeks, TCAT will install electronic monitors that will display real-time information at its main hubs at Green St. Station and Seneca St. Station, as well as on campus at Sage Hall and Statler Hall stops. TCAT intends to install more of these monitors as funding becomes available.
Yarrow noted that TCAT is also working on a project to install new bus stop signs at designated stops in TCAT’s service area, which covers Tompkins County. Signs will include numbers passengers can text via their mobile phone to see where and what time the next bus they will need to get to their destinations “so this dovetails nicely with the ITS project,” Yarrow said.
The IT/ITS upgrade is also providing TCAT with back-end technologies that will help TCAT more efficiently manage its data and more easily create bus operator schedules, which, up until recently, were done manually ─a very time-consuming process, Yarrow said.