All public transport should have real time tracking

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I live in a small city. Getting from one end to the other is normally quite easy with the city bus system, which has a bus passing by most places in the city at least once every 15 minutes during working hours on weekdays. That means that most of the time, you can just find the nearest bus stop and wait there. 

Some days however, things aren’t quite that easy. There’s been a few of those days lately, as ridiculous weather changes has thrown this part of Norway from fall weather to inches of snow and back again a few times over the last few weeks. I don’t quite know what it is about people who drive, but the sudden need for tires that work on snow and ice seem to be just as surprising to them year after year. That creates traffic jams which again hinder traffic. Right now there’s once again no snow in sight, which is why I was quite surprised today when there was a 20 minute gap in a bus system that has buses going by that particular stop almost every five minutes.

What annoys me about this is that there’s no reason why 20 people should stand at a bus stop looking at their watches, just to confirm that the bus is indeed that late. With the cost of GPS technology these days, there’s no excuse not to cram one into every single one of those buses, and make it report to a system that users can access. Seriously, give me an Android device and I’ll make the freaking system myself in Tasker. It’s not rocket science, which is why more and more bus companies – and other forms of public transport – offer this to customers. Knowing where the bus is and how delayed it will be makes it so much easier all the way around, from choosing to simply walk where you need to go (granted that’s suicidal on icy roads) to simply go back inside the mall for ten minutes.

It’s not just the buses that are lacking this over here, but also the trains. Despite the system being in place for use internally, and there being a mobile device based ticket system in place, apparently no one thought of adding a way to show delays in real time. What makes that even worse is that the digital ticket system doesn’t take delays into account, so worst case scenario your ticket may have been deactivated by the time you need to show it, assuming a situation where delay time is higher than travel time (which easily happens on local routes).

To me, the perfect public transport app would show real time locations of all public transport on a map. It would have the ability to toggle the route that they’re going to take, either one at a time, all at once, or just the ones that pass close to you. I also want the ability to “fast forward” a specific route, meaning that it would play an animation of the vehicle traveling along the route with adjusted time stamps as it goes along. I hate trying to use public transport in unfamiliar places, as maps and whatnot are often minimalistic representations of the routes rather than actual maps. Heck, I’ve had to trace the city bus routes for this city as routes in Google Maps to be able to check where each bus goes, as the “map” in the PDF schedule is about as helpful as Apple Maps.

What’s ironic here is that both the bus company and the public railroad company I’ve mentioned here have just invested heavily in new equipment. Just a few months ago, the bus company was in the news bragging about their new buses, using hybrid engines and with WiFi onboard. The WiFi was apparently because “it’s important to follow the times.” That’s fine, but I’d rather have a GPS in there telling me the bus is stuck in a snow storm.

Like I said, some companies already have this in place. Why the others don’t, I don’t know. I guess it’s the age old question of cost, since companies like these tend to overpay for the equipment needed. I’m sure that if they just put fluxLoop on it they would have Galaxy Tab-equipped buses and bus stops within a month. At this rate, however, I’ll consider myself lucky if they get a carrier pigeon-based system in place in the next decade.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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