This week the Department of Infrastructure and Liberty Bus launched a beta version of Track My Bus, an online service that provides (close to) real time locations for all the buses on the Island as well as information on all routes and easily accessible timetables. As beta suggests this is still a work in progress and we need your feedback to make sure we’re getting it right.
So what does it do?
Scenario 1: You’ve over slept and missed your usual bus. By checking Track My Bus you can see which other buses you could still catch in time and which is likely to get you to town first.
Scenario 2: You walk to a rural bus stop every day to meet your child off the school bus. It’s raining and you don’t want to be waiting longer than necessary. By checking Track My Bus you can see (to the nearest minute) when the bus is expected to arrive.
Scenario 3: You’ve been at a friends for lunch. You want to walk some of the way home but ideally catch a bus at some point. Track My Bus will, at any stage of your walk, give you all the options of potential routes and times for the nearest stops near you.
There are more benefits, and as the web page continues to develop we expect these to grow, but the overarching themes are improved customer service and significantly reduced costs when this replaces the current TextMyBus Service.
Many of you with an interest in coding will be aware of the Hackathon events run by Digital Jersey in partnership with collaborate.je and techtribes.je. The events are run over 40 continuous hours and enable local coders to come up with creative ways to meet set challenges. A recent event set several challenges around bus data and information. One of the developers, Rob Dudley, created a ‘bus SIM mobile site;. Rob has since contributed to the ‘Track My Bus’ project and we have been able to build on his initial Hackathon concept.
It just so happened that around the same time the Transport team in the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), their IT Business Support Group and local suppliers were using cloud technology to provide the media with information about the number of available spaces in the multi-story car parks in town.
Bringing these two solutions together, the DfI were asked by their Business Support Group if, in partnership with Liberty Bus, they would be interested in developing a live tracking app for customers of the bus service.
Increasing bus use
The DfI team and Liberty Bus – both of whom are committed to increasing bus use under the sustainable transport policy – were very interested, as it addressed two of their concerns – how to get bus timetable information to rural customers and reduce the overheads of the textmybus service.
Textmybus is very well used, and in 2015 over 160,000 SMS messages were sent in response to users’ requests. However, the service is expensive to run as the States fund the cost of the return messages. In reviewing these costs, the DfI noted that many transport networks were moving away from text services and towards mobile apps.
At this point the business support group also asked Liberty Bus to run a survey to find out if their customers would be interested in an app, and over 60% said they would. This was encouraging, and judging from informal feedback received so far we think this new service will be very popular with non-registered customers.
A little bit about how it works
The buses all have SIMs on board to transmit ticketing information and their current GPS coordinates. This also connects to the bus schedule software, and between these two feeds we have real-time tracking.
Why a web page and not an app?
The team initially specified a mobile app – as this seemed the logical approach and was what all the other transport networks were doing. Working with the supplier we quickly realised that this would prevent us from delivering this in an agile/cost effective way. Every change would require the app to be rewritten in each mobile OS code, repackaged, published and tested across each platform. Not agile! Very slow, intensive, expensive!
The team changed the specification to a mobile website rather than app as this will work across all platforms and enable faster development and deployment – so we can respond to customer feedback more efficiently.
The code used to design this site will be made open source and made available to other members of the digital community so that they can contribute new or enhanced features.
The system is not perfect, for example there can be a delay on the buses reporting back their location due to overhanging trees and other environmental issues. However, these are the same issues currently experienced with TextMyBus. To minimise this impact we show how many seconds it has been since a bus has reported in. To improve this service we need your feedback! Please use Track My Bus and let us know what improvements you would like to see.