St. Albert Transit launches real-time GPS information with NextBus

Today St. Albert Transit officially launched its NextBus service, giving transit riders the ability to find out exactly when a bus is arriving. All 55 StAT buses have been outfitted with Automatic Vehicle Locators, the hardware that uses GPS to provide information about a bus’s actual location. St. Albert is the second municipality in Alberta to launch the service. Banff, Guelph, Thunder Bay, Toronto, and Laval all offer a similar service.

From the press release:

“No one likes to wait for the bus more than they have to so people using StAT transit will find NextBus will save them time,” says Bob McDonald, Transit Director at the City of St. Albert. “We are pleased to be among the first municipalities in Canada to offer such a service.”

Transit riders can use the NextBus website to get arrival times. It’s not pretty, but it works! You can either enter your stop number, or pick a route, direction, and stop name to find out when the next bus is arriving. The page will tell you in large type when the next bus is arriving, and also provides links to a Google Map and a Live Map. You can see the system-wide maps here: Google Map, Live NextBus Map. You can also sign up for myNextBus, a service that can send you an alert when your bus is about to arrive. In addition to the main website, NextBus has a mobile-ready website as well. In the US they also offer SMS functionality, but unfortunately it doesn’t work in Canada.

What about an API? The documentation is pretty much non-existent, but there appears to be a NextBus API available. You can read about it on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) site. I tried to use the appropriate parameters for St. Albert, but found that it doesn’t work. I contacted StAT to find out more. It turns out that the API is extra functionality that NextBus charges extra for. Dawn Fedorvich, Coordinator of Customer Service for StAT, tells me that they’re looking into it. In the meantime, contact StAT to let them know that you think having access to the API is important! Earlier today David Eaves wrote about the “arrivals board” that the University of Alberta Students’ Union has created using the City of Edmonton’s GTFS data. That’s just scheduled information, however. Imagine that board being real-time – that’s the kind of thing the API would enable!

StAT has been testing the NextBus service since April 1. A total of 340 testers used the service 4500 times during the beta period. They started exploring the service in 2008, and have spent $170,000 since that time to make the service a reality for StAT riders. I think it’s a very positive thing for all transit riders in the Capital Region. I know AVL/GPS technology is on the roadmap for ETS as well, so let’s hope this news puts a bit more pressure on them to get it done. Congrats to StAT for leading the way!

Check out the new service here!

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