Long waits at the bus stop are soon to be a thing of the past, thanks to the implementation of an innovative new service that uses GPS technology to place real time information on the Winston-Salem Transit Authority’s fleet at passengers’ fingertips.
Customers are now able to access up-to-the-minute information on a bus’ location and arrival time by accessing the Transit Authority’s Web site through a smartphone or tablet.
“This is the perfect compliment to our hybrid-electric buses,” Transit Authority Director Art Barnes said of the new service, known as NextBus. “The key to public transportation is convenience, and that’s what this does.”
Barnes and city officials gathered at the Transit Authority headquarters in the Clark Campbell Transportation Center on the morning of Tuesday, March 25 to highlight the NextBus service and WSTA’s new and improved Web site, which allows customers to set up alerts on their smartphone, tablet or computer to warn them when the bus is nearing their stop. Those without “smart” devices will also be able to access the service by calling 336-778-3876 and entering their stop number, which can also be found on the Web site, officials said. The $349,000 system was supported by a grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
City Council Member Dan Besse, chair of the city’s Public Works Committee, rode the bus from his home in the Southwest Ward to the transit center to demonstrate the ease with which a passenger can navigate the new system.
“It was one minute before the bus was supposed to arrive at the stop close to my house, which means, ‘Run, Dan!’” he joked.
Like the bus system, NextBus is convenient and easy to use, Besse said.
“I’m not the most facile with technology, however I can use this system,” he told the audience.
Timing is a key reason why more people in the city don’t utilize public transportation, Besse reported. With the help of NextBus, riders will be able to virtually eliminate their wait, he said.
“When you know exactly when the bus is going to arrive at the stop, it makes it more usable, and everybody has these phones,” he noted. “This is what we’re doing now to make the system more friendly to customers, more accessible and more interesting to discretionary riders.”
City Council member Derwin Montgomery, who serves as vice chair of the Public Works Committee, praised the Transit Authority’s Web site, which features an updated design and incorporates the new technology.
The Transit Authority is also installing electronic signage at seven major stops that will provide up to the minute on the buses’ locations and any delays they may encounter, Barnes said. Message boards at the Clark Campbell station will also be updated to incorporate the new technology, he added. NextBus is just the beginning of what WSTA has in store for current and future passengers, Barnes said. An overhaul of the current system that will reconfigure routes and enhance service is also in the works, he revealed.
Keith King, vice chair of WSTA’s Board of Directors and owner of Kingz Downtown Market, says he sometimes rides the bus in order to gauge the level of satisfaction customers have with the service. He believes NextBus will help alleviate many of the frustrations that he’s heard regular riders express.
“I think this is a great opportunity,” he declared. “I think this right here will go a long way.”
Assistant City Manager Greg Turner believes the implementation of NextBus and other technology driven services at the Transit Authority will increase the city’s livability by answering a growing demand for services delivered in real time.
“If you buy a product from Amazon, you can track, to the hour, where it is,” he noted. “If you can track a package, why wouldn’t you want to be able to track the bus that you depend on everyday?”
Unlike larger cities, where buses may run every 5-10 minutes, passengers who miss a WSTA bus may face a 30 minute wait, said Turner, who oversees the Transportation department. By providing up to the minute information on the location of a given bus, WSTA is reducing the time that customers have to spend at the bus stop, leaving more room for them to fulfill their other obligations, Turner said.
“Wherever they’re going, it’ll let them be more efficient in their time,” he said of NextBus. “…With 30 minute headways, you need to know where the bus that you’re dependent on is, so you can be there just in time.”
For more information about NextBus or any WSTA services, visit www.wstransit.com or call 336-727-2000.