Ever stood in the rain and wondered what happened to the CARTA bus that was supposed to pick you up 10 minutes ago?
Those days could be a thing of the past.
Today, the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority rolls out a new “real time” Internet-based system offering up-to-the-moment information on bus location and arrival time, officials said.
“It’s huge on so many levels,” said Jeff Burns, CARTA transportation planner.
More than 100 CARTA buses have been outfitted with GPS devices to provide the location and travel time information to the CARTA website.
The real-time system, believed to be the first of its kind on a municipal bus system in South Carolina, gives CARTA management new tools to gauge on-time performance and troubleshoot route problems, officials said.
“We have more oversight,” Burns said.
The service, called “bus tracker,” is being made available through Veolia Inc., the company that contracts with CARTA to provide bus service.
Currently, CARTA has 1,371 bus stops but only 80 of them offer a place out of the rain with a route map and general instructions on how to use the system.
“We don’t have enough bus shelters,” said CARTA board Chairman Elliott Summey.
Using the new system on a mobile device such as a smartphone, a rider can duck into a store to get out of the elements and not worry about missing the bus, he said.
“This is great. Pretty impressive. It’s cool for management too,” Summey said.
Prior to bus tracker, CARTA offered information on routes and schedules at its website but no current information on arrival times.
To use the new service, the traveler goes to the CARTA website at www.ridecarta.com and clicks on the bus tracker icon under quicklinks. One of 23 routes is selected from a drop-down menu. A bus stop is then selected from another drop-down menu. Bus location and arrival time are then displayed.
Two years ago, CARTA negotiated for the bus tracker system at no cost as part of its contract with Veolia, Summey said.
“With your Smartphone you can know exactly where your bus is,” he said.
CARTA is one of four systems in the country to have the Veolia bus tracker system. The others are in Savannah, San Francisco and Napa, Calif.
Mass transit advocate William Hamilton of Mount Pleasant, an attorney who regularly rides the bus, described the new tracking system as a huge step forward.
“We’re thrilled at what this will make possible for people using our transit system. Transit is essential to the success of our community,” he said.
Long-range, CARTA envisions a mobile device app for bus tracker and digital displays at bus stops that provide the GPS-based arrival information to riders.
John Garzon, 33, who works at a downtown restaurant, said the new bus information system sounded like a good idea.
“It’s good to know if the bus is a little bit early or a little bit late,” he said.
He pulled out a flip phone and wondered how the system would work on his mobile device.
“We’re living paycheck to paycheck,” he said while waiting for a bus on Columbus Street.
His companion, Hillary Near, 21, a hotel table server, said the success of the service depends on whether riders have smartphones.
“Most of the people who take the bus can’t afford things like that,” she said.
West Ashley resident Katie Zimmerman said the bus that takes her to work downtown can run 30 minutes behind schedule.
“It is such a test of personal patience. If this system works it would be such a relief,” she said.