Public Transport + Technology = Good

Why don’t public transportation providers outfit their vehicles with GPS trackers and update the position in real time? This would effectively eliminate the need for time tables: just check the website/phone application to see when a bus will be near you. Traffic? No problem! The map still shows exactly where the bus is. Even the bus-drivers could use the map to coordinate with other bus-drivers on their route.

Extending this system, the bus could text individuals whenever it is X minutes from a bus-stop (where the user sets the X and the bus-stop). I have a bus stop two minutes from my front door, so the morning bus would text me when it was five minutes away; similarly, at school I’m about 10 minutes from the bus stop so I would want a text about 15 minutes in advance. That’s better living through software! And the technology exists already.

From an economics standpoint, this innovation would be justified if ridership would increase enough to offset the cost of the project (hardware, software, installation. and maintenance). My hunch is that this system would pay itself off quickly because more people would ride the bus if it were easier to catch. Who wants to wait in the rain or the sweltering heat indefinitely? A system like this would also differentiate the transportation operator and raise the bar on service. I rode a bullet train, in part, because I wanted to experience the future. I can just imagine Austinintes on vacation bragging, “CapMetro back in Austin texts you whenever the bus is close! Why doesn’t this city do the same?”

So, how about it? Why doesn’t your city make public transportation easier? What other innovations and upgrades should we expect from public transportation?