I have been a member of the board of directors of Central Contra Costa Transit Authority (aka County Connection) since 1998.
Over the years I have seen many changes in how transit services are provided in the East Bay. Our buses are less polluting and more fuel efficient. Some are hybrids that utilize the heat of braking to generate electricity. But even more exciting is the institution of the Bus Tracker system throughout the fleet.
Last summer when David Shen heard County Connection would offer real-time bus arrival prediction, he began to spread the word among his co-workers at Chevron in Bishop Ranch.
Bus Tracker has now been installed on all of County Connection's fixed-route buses and the software uses GPS location data to predict arrival times. Buses transmit their location every 30 seconds via the Sprint network enabling Bus Tracker to predict arrival times and make bus location information available to the public on the Web.
"Bus drivers really do a good job of keeping the buses on time in normal traffic conditions," said Shen, a regular County Connection passenger, "but all it takes is a little fender bender during the commute hour for the freeways to back up. Since Bus Tracker went live last December, I've been able to completely eliminate my wait time at the stop."
All passengers need is access to the Internet to see where buses are on the route, and to see when the next bus is predicted to arrive at a stop.
The map view uses the familiar Google map as a base to show buses progressing along the transit routes. Riders can view the upcoming bus arrival times by selecting any bus stop in the system.
"Near the end of my day, I open Bus Tracker on my computer or smartphone and keep an eye on the next bus as I finish up, then time my departure based on when the bus is due to arrive," continued Shen. "County Connection deserves kudos for installing this system."
The implementation of Bus Tracker is the latest upgrade to County Connection's onboard computer system. Having real-time arrival information is particularly important for a suburban system because the bus comes less often than in an urban area.
"The new system is more appealing to new riders because the uncertainty is removed," said Anne Muzzini, director of planning at County Connection. "We have come to expect up-to-date, current information via the Web, and County Connection riders now have this for their bus route."
Because customer service agents can see where buses are and what the predicted arrival time is, even riders without access to the Internet can have more accurate information. Prior to being able to use Bus Tracker, customer service agents relied on the "scheduled" times. Now they can see if a bus is caught in traffic.
Another feature of Bus Tracker allows users to set up personal accounts by registering in Bus Tracker and to receive personalized arrival alerts. Just click the Bus Tracker icon on County Connection's home page -- www.countyconnection.com -- to access Bus Tracker. The link on the Bus Tracker home page (top right) is used to create a user account.
Once riders set up their account they may select one or more stops to be monitored, and then instruct the application to forward them email or text messages with estimated bus arrival times at those stops.
"Setting up your account to receive service alerts is easy," said Muzzini. "The steps involved in selecting a stop to be monitored are the same as those used when locating a stop on the Bus Location Map. Simply choose a route, direction on the route, and then a stop from the pull-down list in each field. Once the stop has been selected, just specify when you wish to receive the email or text message."
Riders can also receive multiple alerts of the arrival times, after the initial specified time, by checking the "Repeat Every" box and selecting an interval. Timing of alerts may be modified or deleted at any time.
For assistance with Bus Tracker or to get information on bus routes from the customer service staff, call 925-676-7500.
Schroder is the mayor of Martinez. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mary Burdick of CCCTA contributed to this column.