Michaela Stenchever gazed in bewilderment at a city bus schedule at the Santa Rosa Transit Mall Monday afternoon.
The 17-year-old was trying to make her way to Empire College to meet a friend, and wasn't sure what bus line to take or what time it would arrive.
After fiddling with her smartphone in vain for the answers, the local teen welcomed news that CityBus is launching a cellphone app with riders like her in mind.
“That would be really helpful to me right now,” an exasperated Stenchever said of the city's new real-time bus tracking software, which went live this week.
Called My Santa Rosa CityBus, the program aims to make it easier for bus riders to access real-time arrival and departure information to better plan their rides.
“This really puts the power back in the hands of the rider,” said Joy Gipson, marketing and outreach coordinator for CityBus.
All 34 city buses have been outfitted with GPS tracking devices and transmit their location every few seconds. That information is fed into a software program that riders can access in the way most convenient to them.
There's an iPhone app, a mobile website for other smartphone users, and a regular website for desktops. Riders can also set up email alerts to tell them whether their bus in on time or running behind schedule. They can also use their phones to get an estimated arrival time texted to them in seconds.
“When things slow down, it's important for people to know, 'Do I have 2 minutes or do I have 20 minutes?'” Gipson said.
The iPhone app and interactive website allow users to select the routes they care about, generating a color-coded map with icons showing the precise location of the buses.
In some cases, the information will help people know whether they need to rush or not, a convenience unto itself, Gibson said. But in other cases riders might use the knowledge that a bus is running late to change their plans, such as by switching to another bus or alternative forms of transportation.