ARCHIVED - Tracking bus fleets in real time

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March 02, 2011— Ottawa, Ontario

You’re standing at a bus stop on a cold morning with the wind blowing ice pellets in your face. Your bus is 15 minutes late and you’re worried about missing your first appointment. Should you try to find an alternative bus route, call a taxi, or text your colleagues to reschedule the meeting?

Unfortunately, scenarios like this are all too common for people who rely on public transit. While most buses generally run on time in most Canadian cities, just about every frequent rider has a personal story about “the bus that never came.” However, a new tracking system developed by NRC and licensed to Red Ball Internet of Moncton, New Brunswick could take the guesswork out of morning and afternoon commutes.

Real time info for riders

Trax can “see” the position of each bus in real time and generate an accurate arrival time prediction for each bus stop. In areas where poor wireless reception prevents a bus from transmitting its GPS data, the system relies instead on stored bus schedule information.

Ewan Sinclair (left) and Troy Nelson (right) of Red Ball Internet pose with Dr. William McIver, Jr. of NRC-  IIT.

Ewan Sinclair (left) and Troy Nelson (right) of Red Ball Internet pose with Dr. William McIver, Jr. of NRC-IIT.

Designed for urban areas with populations between 50,000 and 500,000, Red Ball Internet Trax is a web-based vehicle location system that includes GPS and fleet management tools for both administrative and public uses. For municipalities, the system is cost-effective because they can choose to install all of its features or just install specific modules and then add other components later.

For riders, “the system lets people see all of the bus stops along an entire bus route,” says Dr. William McIver, Jr., a researcher at the NRC Institute for Information Technology (NRC-IIT) in Fredericton. “It allows door-to-door trip planning. You enter your starting and ending address, and it will find the nearest bus stops and calculate the best route to take, including connections if necessary.”

Among its benefits, the system can provide real-time predictions of when individual buses will arrive at each stop along their route, via text messaging or an interactive voice response over the telephone. The system can also provide "next stop annunciation" onboard each bus - so visually impaired riders will know when they've reached their destination - as well as next stop display on a dynamic map.

“What’s unique about this technology is that it combines rider services, fleet management, and next stop annunciation and display — all in one highly-modular system that we have licensed to Red Ball Internet at a competitive price.” — Dr. William McIver, Jr., NRC Institute for Information Technology

Red Ball Internet Trax allows door-to-door trip planning from a kiosk (above) or web browser.

Red Ball Internet Trax allows door-to-door trip planning from a kiosk (above) or web browser.

For transit authorities, the system offers a fleet-wide view of the location of each bus. Transit administrators can use it to assign particular buses to certain routes, find out how closely buses are adhering to their schedule, or collect information on idling times and speeds. 

Onboard each bus sits a small computer connected to a GPS receiver that provides location data. “You can attach a video monitor to the computer to display bus location information, next stop details or public service announcements for riders,” says Dr. McIver. “You can also install other devices such as web cams to enhance security by recording crimes, and safety or policy infractions as they happen. Live streaming cameras also provide administrators with a live view into each bus.”

Red Ball Internet Trax is currently being used by the City of Moncton's transit system, and the company is actively marketing its product to municipalities across the country. "NRC owns the underlying technology, so it doesn't preclude us from developing other mobility applications, such as for tracking snow removal vehicles and heavy equipment," says Sharon Wahl, business development officer at NRC-IIT.

Last year, NRC-IIT and Red Ball Internet were jointly presented with the Technological Advancement/Innovation - Private Sector Award at the KIRA awards gala on May 6, 2010. The prestigious KIRA awards are considered the "Oscars" of New Brunswick's knowledge industry.

Related information 

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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