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EDITORIAL: Real-time IndyGo bus data long overdue

March 26, 2016

When IndyGo opens its long-sought transit center on Washington Street downtown in June, it also will unveil a service that’s long overdue—real-time tracking of bus locations.

At least that’s the plan. We add that caveat because this feature, which you’ll find in all of the nation’s biggest cities and in many cities far smaller than Indianapolis, has endured repeated delays on the path toward launching here.

And, unfortunately, at least for now, Indianapolis riders won’t be able to see bus locations on a map—something smartphone users are able to do in many other cities, as are students using buses on many college campuses. It’s a feature that seems pretty basic in today’s Uber world.

Regular IndyGo riders know firsthand the hassles the slow rollout of real-time data has caused, especially in the late afternoon, when buses are more likely to be off schedule. Riders waiting at bus stops are forced to trade intelligence among themselves. Did I miss the 28? Has the 55 come yet?

IndyGo in 2014 signed a $636,166 contract with Ontario-based Trapeze Group for a system upgrade allowing the launch of real-time data. IndyGo first said the service would roll out that year but then said it was delaying the launch to 2015 due to a new master agreement with Trapeze.

IndyGo spokesman Bryan Luellen attributed the latest delay to “shifting priorities” related to construction of the $20 million transit center. He said it made sense to coordinate the real-time launch with the transit center’s opening.

Under the system, each bus stop will have a five-digit ID. Riders who call a phone number or enter the ID into a text message will learn how many minutes away buses are from that stop. Displays at the transit center also will show the information.

“We do have working betas” of both the phone and text systems, Luellen said.

That’s a good thing, because not all municipalities have had smooth sledding with Trapeze, a provider of public transportation software worldwide. In Columbus, Ohio, Trapeze is five years late in providing real-time tracking, the Columbus Republic reported in January.

From the start, Peter SerVaas, president of the Indianapolis-based startup DoubleMap, which offers technology solutions to transit providers, questioned IndyGo’s decision to tap Trapeze for real-time service under a no-bid contract. The bus system said doing so made sense because it already had invested millions in a system sold by a company Trapeze acquired. But SerVaas countered that his company could have done the work, and that opening it up for bid would have helped ensure IndyGo got a good deal.

Let’s hope everything works out well from here. One positive development is that IndyGo plans to open its data to third-party app developers, which could add the mapping feature that IndyGo itself is not providing.

However, IndyGo plans to update data only every 30 seconds—compared with every few seconds for the system DoubleMap provides for IUPUI. So users following buses on their smartphones would see buses jump from spot to spot rather than moving more steadily.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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