Thursday, July 06, 2006

Suggestion: Text messaging for public transit users.

On Tuesdays at 8am I host the morning show at a community radio station in downtown Asheville.

The 7:30am bus from Malvern Hills Park gets me to the studio with about 5 minutes to spare before air-time. However, yesterday was July 4th: Independence Day. There was no transit service for the holiday.

No problem. It was a good opportunity to see how long it would take to bike from my home to WPVM. (The answer: From where I live in West Asheville, just under 40 minutes.)

As I peddled to along the road, I noticed there were people waiting vainly for the bus at other stops.

Don't snicker. It would be easy to blame these folks for not paying attention to the notices that Asheville Public Transit (APT) put up to inform them that the system would be down for the holiday.

But don't be so quick to judge.

The notices were only put up in the buses about a week ago on an 8 x 11 sheet of paper. They were easy to miss. APT should have placed reminders at the bus-stops.

Even with the advance warnings, people are creatures of habit. For example, on the night of the 3rd I nearly forgot to set my alarm clock an hour early so I would have enough time to ride my bike.

This gave me an idea: Along with the bus-stop reminders, APT could set up an optional "cell-phone text messaging" service that could transmit to users a short reminder about 24 hours in advance of major changes in the schedule. Such a system should be easy to implement and would not only be cheaper than printing out flyers, but it would also ideal to alert customers of unexpected delays as well.

For example: If Route 18 got a flat tire, the dispatcher could alert everyone who takes that route with a quick text message and warn them that the bus will be down for a few hours.

The above idea is just a brainstorm. Fliers shouldn't be abandoned as the primary method to tell people about changes to the schedule. However, anything that makes the bus system easier to navigate should be considered.

  • When I first posted this on my own blog, Syntax pointed out that Washington DC has this kind of system.
  • For the the entire "Brainshrub Bus Project" series click here.

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