NextBus means never missing the TTC again

The TTC implemented Vancouver-based WebTech Wireless’ subway and streetcar GPS-enabled prediction system in the last two years and, after much planning and testing, announced the arrival of the NextBus system in Toronto last week Monday.

TTC Spokesperson Mike DeToma said “the final phase, which we did Monday, is to introduce and expand (the Next Vehicle Arrival System) and activate it for the bus fleet, the largest of our vehicle fleets.”

Scott Edmonds, president and chief executive officer at WebTech Wireless said it’s an exciting and thoughtful move on the part of the TTC. The NextBus system, which uses location information provided by GPS transponders on the bus, was first rolled out in San Francisco nine years ago. Edmonds said it quickly became a part of San Francisco culture and now, “if you talk to somebody who lives in San Francisco and you say ‘NextBus,’ they know exactly what you’re talking about.”

Edmonds said the system works by taking the GPS information, along with bus route maps, to plot the buses’ locations along the route. Then, it uses patented algorithms that incorporate past performance, traffic patterns and route disruptions to provide a prediction.

While he said the system obviously serves the rider, WebTech Wireless’ customer is the TTC and “we like to tell our customer that we deliver riders to the stop on time.”

According to Edmonds, “I think everyone agrees that the reason we don’t take the bus is that we don’t know when it’s going to come. It doesn’t help you at all to know when it’s scheduled to come, you want to know when it’s actually going to come.” In “mid-January, you miss the bus by two minutes and (that means) 20 minutes more out there. That’s 20 minutes you could be inside having a coffee, spending time with your kid or getting to work on time.”

Also, because the project provides open data, Edmonds said creating apps using their API is easy and has already happened in Boston and San Francisco.

DeToma agreed and said that the TTC is already providing that data on its site as well as WebTech Wireless.

There have been some more creative uses for the system in other cities too, Edmonds said. In “Washington, DC, for instance, (the city) created something called NextBus-in-a-bar. They’ve gotten some bar owners in the Georgetown area to put a terminal near the door showing the predictive arrival for the bus stops near the bar,” he said. “If you want to take a girl home you can say ‘Hey, we’re walking but we can take the bus.’”

The only current drawback to the system is that you can only query by text 10 times in 12 hours. The TTC said this is to prevent spam and won’t affect the apps in any way.

The one question that hasn’t been answered yet is whether the system will be monetized. DeToma said there was a discussion at the last TTC Commission meeting as to whether a charge per text fee should be introduced for bus and streetcar predictions. While this remains a possibility, depending on public response, the decision was pushed to September and texts will remain free at least until then.

DeToma also said that there are no current plans for a TTC branded app but it’s not out of the question.

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