Bus Tracking

I thought up this idea while I was standing in the freezing cold at a city bus stop in Waterloo. So it’s probably a bit rash and not too well thought through, but you’ll get my general drift.

Ok let me introduce you to the general mass transit system in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge. Basically one bus system services all three cities and some buses do inter-city routes. Each bus stop has a unique number identifier which you can append to 888 as a phone number to get the schedule. Now this isn’t exactly the most exact system in the world. These are the transit system’s scheduled times, which means poor weather, bus malfunctions, or traffic could affect the actual arrival times.

Basic technology’s getting cheaper by the day and I thought, how much trouble would it be financially and effort-wise would it to install some sort of transmitter on each bus and a receiver at each bus stop? This way, as it passes by each stop, these two would communicate and the data would be fed into some sort of central location to be made available for distribution to users would need it. Instead of broadcasting to the user where and when it should be, the system would be able to (pretty) accurately tell where the bus actually is. That way, any circumstances will be reflected in its location in real time. And eventually, it could come down to a display at each terminal actually showing the path of the bus visually.

Of course, I told my dad about this idea. He seems to have this way of humbling my ‘great’ ideas. I was curious of what he would say about this idea. First, economics was brought up. How much would something like this cost? How would it be paid for? Would people be willing to pay up an extra, say, 5% to cover the costs for the extraordinary circumstances that this would actually be useful in? It would also rely on the fact that people have cell phones and are willing to call to find out the real time information. Of course more and more people have cell phones these days so that’s probably not that much of an issue. Then, even if people were given the extra knowledge, how useful would it be to them? Say you’re standing at a bus stop and need to get somewhere in 15 minutes. The bus is supposed to be at your stop now, but it’s not. You call up the system and find out there’s been a car accident and the bus is going to be 10 minutes late. What choices to you have even with the new information? Call a cab? Probably take just as long anyways. Chances are, you’re relying on that bus and although it’s going to be late and you’re going to be late, you can’t really do much of anything to get around that fact.

That’s not to say the system would be totally useless. Better accuracy could potentially increase ridership. So if you knew almost exactly when a bus is going to at certain stops, the whole system would become more reliable and dependable. So if there are extraordinary circumstances, at least you have the option of choosing, instead of blindly waiting. And once again, I haven’t properly thought this through yet so I’m probably overlooking some way of implementing this sort of system and creating more benefits. I’m pretty sure this is the way these transit systems will have to move in the future. More accuracy, better reliability, and more knowledge for the users. Missing buses is probably one of the worst things about public transit. Perhaps this sort of system would help people with that.

I was informed that something like this is already in bus systems in Japan.

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