TN: KAT Officials Reviewing Bids for Technology to Eliminate Guessing Bus Arrivals

May 06--Knoxville resident Faith Stokes, a 10-year public bus rider, fiddled on her smartphone while leaning against an outdoor column on the upper deck of the Knoxville Station Transit Center. She often plays a guessing game when trying to figure out how long to stand by the bus stop from her home near Central Avenue or from work on Western Avenue, she said.

"Sometimes the buses are late or early, and then you miss them if they're early," Stokes said. "So you have to wait a whole other hour. Then when they're late, you're late to work. It's kind of aggravating not knowing if they're going to be early or late."

That very smartphone Stokes uses to pass the time while waiting could eliminate that guessing game, said Belinda Woodiel-Brill, KAT director of marketing. Officials are seeking technology that would allow riders to track buses' real-time location on their cellphones and the Internet.

KAT officials and city of Knoxville technology staff have begun reviewing proposals submitted by five vendors: Trapeze, DoubleMap, TransLoc, Clever Devices and Next Bus, she said.

Officials have not set a date for purchase and installation because the city's technology staff needs time to review the specific capabilities of each proposal and the compatibility with existing bus location systems used by KAT, she said.

"To me, this is a game changer for public transit once we get this installed," she said. "Our passengers are going to wonder how they did it without it."

Some of the services can send text messages to riders when a bus approaches or runs late, she said. The technology, if purchased, should increase ridership by giving people confidence about bus times, she added.

Cost estimates are not made public until the city chooses the vendor, according to the city's communications office.

Hubert Smith, Knoxville Transportation Authority board member, said he sees the service providing more convenience.

"People will like to get on their devices, see when the bus is coming," he said. "It's nice and a sign of the times."

Neubern Kelso just moved to Knoxville last week, he said.

"I'm almost blind, and I have to run downstairs and ask them what bus to catch. Sometimes I miss it because I'm going down there to ask them.

"If I could look on my phone, before I get off the bus and catch the right bus, that would be very helpful."

Copyright 2014 - The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.

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