Along with text messaging, passengers are able to trip-plan using the Internet. STOPwatch, a real-time information system found on the MTD website, uses the MTD database and Google search to assist travelers with trip planning.
According to a recent poll asking passengers which feature of the RTPI was their favorite, one passenger wrote, “SMS by far, because it’s easiest to use while actually ON a bus. Website would be next, but I use that more to look up the SMS codes.”
Since its inception, the agency has experienced high demands for data with hourly requests from users, including applications, widgets and SMS averaging nearly 35,000 per hour. In fact, 45 percent of riders indicated that the website was their primary information source about MTD in 2008. By 2010, that percentage grew to 59 percent.
Brad Cronk, MTD’s technology supervisor, advises, “Be prepared for the public to quickly become dependent on real-time information. All features of the CAD/AVL system depend upon accurate data from GPS locations and distances between stops. If a dispatcher pulls a vehicle out of service without having another to take its place, passengers down the route from the event will see buses disappear from the real-time displays. The data has to be as accurate as possible to be able to provide a great service.”
Safety and Communication
Once the real-time information system was in place, MTD staff began to operate proactively rather than reactively with service. Immediate access to performance data helped to evaluate customer service issues, make service adjustments and inform passengers about any delays. This not only enhanced customer relations, but the ability to track performance and to monitor vehicle assignments immediately improved on-time performance.
In addition, better communication between control and the operators reduced voice communications with the ability to send text messages to multiple vehicles. Operators could send pre-programmed messages rather than having to create standard messages. Transfer connections, as well as automatic alerts for such things as off-route and running early situations, could now be sent electronically. MTD Managing Director Bill Volk noted, “Operationally, the system has been invaluable, saving time and money and increasing the production and efficiency of our service to our customers.”
Another added feature, the silent safety alarms onboard the buses, enable dispatchers to receive alerts with a special message relaying the exact location of the bus on a map display when a problem arises. Control is given direct access to what is happening on the bus and can direct police and emergency personnel to the exact location of the vehicle if needed. With bus incidents on the rise, this feature of the system was a welcome component.
Karl Gnadt shares this advice from his experience. “With the system in place, it became clear that we needed to relentlessly pursue an organizational paradigm shift in how we approach on-the-street changes. Now that our passengers had a complete picture of what was happening on the street, the burden was on us to consider the possible implications that changes would have on the information that passengers had in hand.”
From a customer point of view, the availability of real-time information has changed the face of MTD’s transit culture. The scenario of a passenger waiting in the cold wondering when the next bus will arrive has become a thing of the past. Riders are well-informed and in control of their travel plans which according to a recent survey has increased their satisfaction with public transit.
“The system empowers passengers by giving them the information they need in a convenient media – whether from their home computer, their cell phone, or the signage at the stop,” says Jan Kijowski, MTD’s marketing director.
In the long run, the benefits far outweigh any challenges. MTD has realized improved on-time service, increased driver and passenger safety, instant and accurate access to real-time information for customers, and most importantly, a more efficient transit system. The successful installation, and resulting improved performance, propelled MTD’s customer satisfaction rates to an astounding 98 percent in 2010.