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Santa Rosa offers tracking software for bus riders


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.

If the Route 15 bus is running late, for example, Elsie Allen High School students heading downtown might decide to walk over the Southwest Community Park and pick up the 12 or the 19 bus instead, Gipson said.

The real-time data capability was made possible through a $1.5 million system-wide upgrade that included a number of improvements aimed at making the buses more rider-friendly. These included LED signs displaying route numbers inside the buses the clearer stop announcements, Gipson said.

The Santa Rosa City Council will get a presentation about the new system Tuesday at its 4 p.m. meeting.

Rohnert Park resident Traci Pipkin, 45, suffers from cataracts and rides the bus to get to her medical appointments. Connections between Sonoma County Transit and city buses can be tight, so knowing a bus is running late helps her strategize another route, she said.

"I would definitely use it," said Pipkin Monday at the downtown transit mall. "Even the slightest little bit of information is really good."

Information about the new service is available at:

http://ci.santa-rosa.ca.us/departments/transit/citybus/Pages/MySantaRosaCityBus.aspx

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.