PVTA tracker allows students to find arrival times online
For students in the Five College area, peering around the corner for PVTA buses might be a thing of the past. The University of Massachusetts computer science department is experimenting with a new program that allows students to track PVTA buses en route to their destination across campus and the Five College towns.
The tracker is connected to Google Maps and allows passengers to track the path of their bus on the UMass transit services website. If a bus is running late, the tracker can provide passengers with the exact time it will be arriving at its destination. In addition to serving the Five College area, the tracking program will be able to track over 40 bus routes that cover 150 square miles.
System Administrator of Transit Services at UMass Adam Sherson says the bus tracker is not only designed to enable students to keep track of where the buses are at all times, but also to make bus schedules run more efficiently. Sherson collaborated with UMass computer scientist Brian Levine to create the software necessary to make the program run.
Over the summer, Levine facilitated the Diverse Outdoor Mobile Entertainment (DOME) project, which provided Wi-Fi Internet access to all PVTA passengers. The bus tracker, which was introduced in the first week of this year’s fall semester, is still largely unknown by the majority of UMass students. Out of 40 passengers polled, 68 percent admitted they were unaware of the new program. Sherson says he expects students to utilize the program once word spreads around campus.
“We are planning to add posters to our buses, all major bus stops, as well as dorms, to let students know about the new system,” said Sherson. “I think people are going to find it very convenient.”
So far, those who have used the program have agreed with Sherson.
“It can really help you manage your time better if you know exactly when the bus is going to be at the stop,” says Pete Tracy, a UMass senior who lives in Sunderland, Mass., and takes the bus to class every day. “I usually check in the morning before I head out the door.”
For students who have advanced smart phones, such as the iPhone or BlackBerry, programs are available on the transit services website that send e-mail and text message updates regarding bus routes to your phone.
Despite the new program, which allegedly provides more up-to-the-minute bus schedules, students still regularly call the transit services hotline at 413-545-1633 to ask for bus times.
Eiman Mikhchi, a junior at Hampshire College, says he knows about the new tracking program but does not think it is necessary to get a bus.
“Most of the buses come every 15 minutes anyway,” said Mikhchi. “If I need to know the exact time, I can just call the hotline. The tracker is cool, but I don’t see the point.”
Operators working at the PVTA hotline said they have been receiving just as many calls concerning bus times as they did before the tracker was implemented.
Sherson says he is still working with Levine and other members of the computer science department to work out some glitches in the program.
One of the common criticisms from students is that the program is prone to freezing, and can sometimes be slow.
In the future, Sherson says PVTA plans to add an Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) system to all of its buses, which he says will take time to be implemented but should make the tracking process much faster.
As we move closer to the winter months and it becomes less tolerable to wait at the bus stop, many believe that the program is sure to increase in popularity. This new system could mean no more wondering how many minutes until the bus arrives, and no more frantic sprints after the final bus home. With the new PVTA tracking system, students can plan their daily transit accordingly, down to the last minute.
Noah Steinberg-Di Stefano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.