AU students ride on time thanks to new transit technology

Technology also enables dissemination of messages in emergency situations

AUBURN
– Auburn University students no longer have an excuse for being late to class thanks to new technology being utilized by the university’s Tiger Transit bus system.

Known as the Transit Visualization System, the technology allows students to view the buses in motion and the routes in real time on a detailed map displayed on the Internet or a Web-enabled cellular phone.

“It keeps students from having to stand out in the rain or wait for the bus in bad weather, ” said Rex Huffman, manager of transit services at AU. “It also assists management with seeing where the buses are and how the drivers are operating on their routes.”

Each of the 41 Tiger Transit buses is outfitted with a Global Positioning System unit that relays its location to a central server. The server then transmits the location to a map on the Internet or cell phone, all in three to five seconds time.

Huffman said the system has already proven successful, with the online map logging more than 6,000 hits on the first day of operation alone.

“All the feedback from the drivers and students has been ‘Wow! This is the best thing that has happened to the transit system,’” Huffman said.

The map also has a section where Huffman and other administrators can post announcements, for example alerting students when a bus is out of commission or telling them of a route change. The announcements feature could also be used to quickly disseminate a message to students regarding inclement weather or a campus emergency, Huffman said.

John McCormack, a sophomore at AU, said the new technology has helped him to better manage his time, allowing him to check e-mail or finish schoolwork right until time to leave his off-campus apartment for the transit stop. “Now I know exactly where the bus is and how much time I have before the next one comes,” he said. “Before the GPS system, I would sometimes run outside and find the bus was leaving the complex before I could get to the stop.”

Now McCormack said he and his roommates regularly check the online map before leaving for class. “It is a very helpful tool for getting to campus on time,” he said.

Monique Rochon also sees the benefits of the new technology. An AU sophomore, Rochon also lives off campus and relies on the transit to get to class.

“I think it is a good thing for Auburn because it is such a large university with more than half the students living off campus,” she said. “Now students are able to track the bus while they are eating breakfast or watching TV. I won’t have to rush in the morning and I can time myself accordingly (with the system).”

Transit officials at AU began researching a GPS system about a year ago and traveled to North Carolina State to view their system in operation. Impressed with what they saw, Huffman said AU decided to contract with TransLoc, the same company that NC State uses, to provide the GPS service. He said AU is only the fourth university to install the burgeoning company’s technology. In addition to AU and NC State, Emory University and Yale University also use the TransLoc GPS technology on their campus transit systems. Other universities are slated to come online this fall.

In addition to the GPS system, Huffman said students can expect a few more changes to the Tiger Transit system beginning this fall. Two routes that currently service Wire Road will be combined into one. Tiger Transit will also be discontinuing its airport route because of low ridership. Those resources will be reallocated to a new route that will service residents on Opelika and Shelton Mill roads. The new route will also include a “by request” stop at Colonial Village Mall.

“We are readjusting our resources to provide better coverage,” he said.

Tiger Transit continues to see an increase in the number of riders that utilize the service. Three years ago, the system was operating 17 buses and today it’s running 41, Huffman said. Currently, the transit system averages 50,000 riders a week and 200,000-210,000 riders a month.

(Contributed by Katie Wilder.)

Contact: Katie Wilder, (334) 844-9999 (wildeka@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)