Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Track that Bus!

CTA bus tracker
Is there anything is more frustrating than standing at a bus stop not knowing when (or if) the next bus will come? I think not. To help alleviate that frustration, CTA has developed a very handy bus tracker service to let you know where the buses are on a specific route and when they're expected to arrive at their stops.

Not all bus routes have tracking on them, at least not yet, but those that are online have tracking devices on the buses that update the CTA servers with their location information. That information is then available to you so you can plan when you should start walking to the bus stop. Or if you should actually be running ... like right now!

Since CTA doesn't assume you're always sitting at a computer, you can access ctabustracker.com either from your computer or using a mobile device (such as a cell phone). So if you're already at the stop and your phone has internet access, you can check their site to see how much longer you'll be standing there. The site served up on a mobile device is text only and the navigation is very direct -- which is exactly what you need for a mobile device. You're first presented with a list of the bus routes that have tracking enabled. After selecting your route, choose a direction (e.g., northbound) and then choose a bus stop. CTA then displays the arrival time of the next bus and the one or two after that. When I used my phone to look up the #8 southbound to see when it would arrive at Halsted & Chicago, I was shown this information:

Halsted & Chicago (South Bound)
#8    To 79th    8 MIN    (Bus 1672)
#8    To 79th    15 MIN    (Bus 1226)
#8    To 79th    23 MIN    (Bus 1661)

When you access the site via a web browser, it has a much more rich interface but similar to the mobile device, you can look up estimated arrival times for a specific stop. In addition, the browser site has a very nice mapping feature where they integrated their bus tracking with Google maps. In this map view, they place an icon of the bus along the route so you can actually see where the buses are. The buses "move" along the map as their location information is updated. You can still view the estimated arrival time by clicking on a stop on the map, but in this view you can also set up a pop-up alert so you'll be notified when a bus reaches a given stop.

As someone who frequently uses public transportation, this is a great tool, and I hope it'll be rolled out to all the routes. Kudos to CTA for not only implementing ctabustracker.com, but also for creating a version for mobile devices. If you use it, let me know how you like it and how accurate you find the arrival times to be.

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