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Feb. 9, 2011

Ride-On introduces tracking features for commuters

by Philipa Friedman, Print Managing News Editor
By the end of the summer, Ride-On, Montgomery County’s bus transit system, will have instituted the fully operational Smart Traveler system, which will allow commuters to check locations and arrival times for buses due to arrive at specific stops, according to Montgomery County Public Information Officer Esther Bowring.

According to Bowring, each bus is equipped with an automated positioning system which can give its exact location at any given time. Patrons of the bus service will be able to call Ride-On and ask for the location of their bus and the time at which it will arrive at their stop. “They’re going to be replacing every single bus stop pole,” said Bowring. “Each one is going to be a unique number.”

Commuters will then be able to call or text Ride-On at a phone number which will be posted at every stop, supply their stop number, and receive the time of the next bus’s arrival. Arrival times for each bus will also be available for 24-hour access online.

In addition, significant changes will be made to the county’s 311 operation, a general call center available for patrons of county services to call with questions or complaints. The complaints are then investigated by a county staff member. “[The 311 line] operates from seven to five on weekdays,” said Bowring. “That’s why we’re trying to expand the availability of this to 24/7 with texting, calls and Internet.”

According to Bowring, the entire program will be phased in over the course of about six months, beginning with changes to the 311 line. “Within the next few weeks, people will be able to start calling 311 and get information about when their bus will be arriving,” she said.

The entire system, including texting, calling and internet, will be fully operational by the end of this summer.

Sophomore Rachel Mussenden, who uses the Ride-On bus system several times a week, said that the upcoming changes would make her commute easier. Although she said the buses showed up on time fairly regularly, there are times when buses are late or do not arrive. “Sometimes [the bus] just doesn’t show up at all until the next scheduled stop,” Mussenden said.

Mussenden has called the 311 line to find out m ore information about the bus schedules on two occasions, but she did not find it useful. “It’s really unhelpful because it tells you just to look at bus schedules online,” she said. Mussenden reported that she would take advantage of the improved 311 service when it is available to her.

According to Bowring, the implementation of this system is the conclusion of a multiyear project. Consequently, the majority of the funding for this system has already been spent. According to Bowring, the project cost a total of $220,000, spent over a three-year period. This funding originally came from the county’s operating budget and was already allocated for the project.

According to Community Relations Manager Tom Pogue, Ride-On also received some federal stimulus money in order to enhance technology for bus dispatching. President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocated federal grant funds to local communities for specific purposes, including the improvement of transportation infrastructure. The $350,000 dollars supplied to Ride-On by this act were used to purchase buses and improve bus dispatching.



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