Bus Tracker program clocks Hyde Park buses

Hyde Parkers can now wait for the bus from the comfort of their homes.

By Christina Schwartz

Hyde Parkers can now wait for the bus from the comfort of their homes. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) yesterday expanded its satellite Bus Tracker service to include 18 additional routes, bringing the total routes covered to 32. This number includes four routes that make stops in Hyde Park: the #55 Garfield, #55X Garfield Express, #59 59th/61st Streets, and #63 63rd Street routes.

Bus Tracker makes use of a satellite GPS to locate buses, then calculates traffic flow and other factors to determine the estimated time between stops. Using the feature, CTA riders can view projected arrival times at bus stops from a computer, cell phone, or other wireless device with Internet access. Customers can access the time estimates in both map and list format. The map function shows the bus traveling along the route in real time, while the list format provides estimated arrival times of the next two or three buses.

The online information refreshes each minute, and the site allows users to set up alarm notifications when a bus nears a selected stop.

CTA officials said that the Bus Tracker additions are a part of broader transportation reforms that attempt to accurately predict time intervals between buses and to prevent bus bunching. According to the Chicago Tribune, CTA President Ron Huberman (A.M., M.B.A. ’00)announced the initial expansion of the Bus Tracker system at a March press conference.

Using Bus Tracker, CTA officials will be able to track and identify problems with bus spacing along routes. Officials will know when to move a bus farther along the route or call an extra bus to accommodate rider capacity, Huberman said at the press conference.

“I’d definitely use [Bus Tracker] to figure out when the #55 is coming. What will really be great, though, is when they expand it to the #6, #171, and #172,” second-year Michael Powell said.

CTA launched the Bus Tracker program in 2006 on a test basis. It also installed a downtown bus shelter equipped with a bus tracker display screen. The CTA has encouraged customers to provide feedback via the system’s website.

A quick scroll through comments posted in response to the effectiveness of the initial route that incorporated the system turned up mixed reviews. In a test conducted by a MAROON reporter, the system lagged, and the map and bus listings did not always update on time. According to the CTA website, Bus Tracker should be accurate within five minutes when a bus is 30 minutes away from a designated stop and accurate within 75 seconds when a bus is fewer than five minutes away.

The CTA plans to add Bus Tracker to all 154 CTA bus routes by spring 2009 and eventually to launch a “next-train” service which will provide train arrival times at all 144 El stations.