Advance Transit app gives real-time updates on buses

by Heyi Jiang | 2/29/16 7:26pm

3-1-16-news-advancetransit-seamorezhu
The Advance Transit bus makes a stop across from Moore Hall near the McLaughlin Cluster.
by Seamore Zhu / The Dartmouth

Advanced Transit’s new smartphone app will give users real-time updates on bus locations as well as projected arrival times. The app has been downloaded more than 500 times since its official launch last Tuesday.

A group of students from the Thayer School of Engineering started working on this application in October 2015. The Cook Engineering Design Center, which matches companies with engineering students, connected the group with Advanced Transit. The group consists of two two-person development teams for the iOS and the Android apps respectively. Don Stayner Th’16 bridges the teams.

Stayner said that the overall goal of the project is to provide Advance Transit users easy access to bus arrival times.

The app, named Advance Transit, also includes additional functions such as a trip planning feature with an interactive timetable. Users can plan ahead by seeing when buses will leave throughout the day. The timetable also estimates how long any specific trip will take. Moreover, users can “favorite” certain stops and filter out routes, Stayner said.

Advance Transit executive director Van Chesnut said that the initial idea was to show real-time arrival information, but that the students took the app further than he expected.

As the regular Advance Transit website is not mobile friendly, Chesnut said that an app would help create a user-friendly interface for smartphones.

He said that the goal of the app is to increase ridership through making the bus-riding process more convenient. The app makes it easier to understand how to use the bus system and increases the “comfort level” by giving riders easier access to bus arrival time information, he said, especially under weather conditions where delays may occur.

Stayner said that one of the biggest challenges for the student group was to make sure their product fulfills consumer demands. Another challenge, given that there are 163 stops in the Advance Transit system with relatively generic names, was developing a viable interface.

None of the group members had any development experience for iOS or Android at the start, Stayner said.

A member of the student group Nick Gutierrez’16 said that the biggest challenge was the duration of the project, which lasted about 25 weeks.

“We had to work over winter break to start with the coding,” Gutierrez said. “We had five people on the team and every person was in a different part of the world. Starting out development with people all over the world and trying to coordinate with everybody was a pretty big challenge.”

Stayner and Gutierrez both noted that meeting enthusiastic Advance Transit employees proved rewarding.

Advance Transit has been working for years on a system that provides real-time bus arrival information on its website, using the GPS transmitters inside their buses. Stayner said that his group built off of this work. In the end, the team felt like they delivered something that is “truly going to impact the community,” Stayner added.

Chesnut said that by giving out surveys to bus riders, Advance Transit and the student group came to a better understanding of the user base. The initial market study surveys showed 700 bus riders have smartphones with them while using the bus.

“We are developing an outreach plan for promoting availability of this in the future,” Chesnut said. “We are looking to get information out to some of the bigger businesses, to [the] College, the medical center and places like that so they can email their employees and let them know [this app] is available.”

Stayner and Gutierrez both said that there could be a more complete route planning feature in the future, where the app will allow you to choose a location and it will plot the best route to get there.

Hana Nazir ’19 uses Advance Transit buses about four times a week, and has been using the website to find information of bus arrival time and routes.

“I think having an app would actually be a great idea because, it’s very convenient to just have it on your phone instead of having to manually go through all the routes,” she said.

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said that making public transportation easier will help boost ridership.

“This [app] is a perfect example of a tool that I’m hoping is going to get more people on the bus,” Griffin said.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!