Intelligent system predicts bus arrival times and reduces transportation complaints
With each new academic year come hordes of new students on the New Brunswick and Piscataway campuses, struggling to figure out Rutgers’ complex bus transportation system.
A new tool called NextBus, being launched across the New Brunswick campus for the first time this month, should help those students and other bus riders, numbering about 65,000 per day, considerably.
NextBus uses a global positioning system to track all 40 Rutgers buses as they meander through College Avenue, Busch, Livingston, Cook, and Douglass campuses. It is an intelligent program that updates students about bus whereabouts at every stop, via an LCD display that tells riders how long they have to wait until the next two buses on their route arrive.
The displays give students the option to catch the bus coming in two minutes, or run into the student center, grab a bite to eat or check the mail, and catch the bus arriving in 22 minutes.
“As the bus moves around campus, we can track it,” said John Karakoglou, manager of transit services in the Department of Transportation Services. “Let’s say you are at a bus shelter and it says two minutes until the next EE bus. Then all of a sudden, the next time it says seven minutes until the next EE bus. It just told you that something is up with that bus – either it’s stuck in traffic, pulled over for one reason or another.”
The NextBus system not only adjusts bus schedules every three to six seconds to display accurate arrival times; it also takes into account bus activities over periods of time in order to precisely predict bus movements and arrivals.
It even takes into consideration changing traffic patterns, which is especially helpful in the midst of construction along Route 18.
Daily ridership on Rutgers buses increased from 50,000 to 65,000 – 30 percent – after a new parking policy went into effect, dictating that parking permits would only allow students to park in one lot. That forces residential and commuter students to ride the bus rather than drive from one campus to another to get to class or other appointments.
Karakoglou said that since September 2005, when NextBus displays went up as a pilot at several heavily utilized bus stops, complaints about bus service decreased 35 percent. He expects complaints to further decrease as riders get used to the new system.
“People are not calling us anymore saying, ‘Where is this bus?’ People are not calling us anymore saying, ‘I was waiting a half-hour for the bus.’ We can look back and see if that was true or not,” Karakoglou said. “Everybody out there is more informed.”
Every bus stop has been upgraded with a security camera and an emergency phone that puts callers directly in touch with bus dispatchers. The security cameras are used to improve safety at bus stops, and also to monitor conditions, helping transportation experts at Rutgers ensure efficient bus service.
Previously, bus dispatchers monitored travel conditions on foot, toting a clipboard and pencil. “I don’t need anybody out on the street anymore to ask questions, see where there is a lot of traffic, if there are a lot of people waiting at the bus shelter,” Karakoglou said. “I don’t need five people out on the road when I can see everything from the command center.”
Transportation services employees are installing displays with graphic maps in common student areas, like dining halls and student centers, to inform students of bus arrivals as they eat, study, or socialize.