In Our View: High-Tech Travel

Local bus riders, electric-car drivers get some good news

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Two recent editions of The Columbian have brought a double dose of good news on the local transportation front, and you don’t even have to drive a vehicle to benefit from progress that’s unfolding at breakneck speed. For those who shun the automobile and choose public transit, C-Tran has installed a new telephone system that provides real-time updates on arrival times for buses at individual stops. And for visionary drivers who either own electric cars or are researching the emissions-free vehicles, Clark County is poised in the epicenter of a wave of charging stations that will be built around the Northwest this year and beyond.

These stories might seem unrelated. Certainly, there’s a big difference between riding a bus and driving a car. But the first common denominator is the shared need to move people; the second similarity is that both groups of travelers are taking advantage of cutting-edge technology. Here are the dynamic details:

NextRide has ETAs

Since C-Tran instituted its automated bus-tracking service on June 20, more than 6,500 telephone calls have been received, and the frequency of inquiries is climbing rapidly as the service gains popularity.

As Eric Florip reported in the print edition of Tuesday’s Columbian, NextRide pairs the network of bus GPS tracking devices with a high-falutin’ telephone system that can tell you when the next bus is scheduled to arrive at your stop.

Just call 360-695-0123 and follow the instructions. You’ll hear the exact time and date, then a request for the four-digit code for your bus stop. If you don’t know that code, other prompts will help you get the information.

Admittedly, listening to the female (we suspect) robot’s voice is more informational than soothing, but we also suspect that NextRide callers aren’t looking for sweet-nothings to be whispered. They want their bus ETA, and pronto!

The C-Tran routes receiving the most NextRide calls are No. 4, mostly along Fourth Plain Boulevard, and No. 37 on the Mill Plain corridor. C-Tran spokesman Scott Patterson said NextRide is “more the direction the industry is going, and we knew it would be a highly valued item.”

NextRide is yet another manifestation of C-Tran’s obsession with customer service. In a growing community, that kind of attitude and attention by the local public transit agency is crucial.

Electric vehicles: Charge!

Florip also reported in Saturday’s Columbian that nine high-powered charging stations for electric vehicles will be installed along Interstate 5 and U.S. Highway 2 before the end of the year.

The public is still months or years away from any widespread conversion to electric cars. We’re only at the dawn of this technology. Indeed, only a few electric cars have been seen locally.

But eyebrows are raised just about anytime technology reaches an early milestone. There are many reasons to believe gas-guzzlers could be headed for the transportation cemetery that was needed for buggies and carriages.

“The Pacific Northwest is really one of the key markets (for charging stations),” said Tonia Buell of the Washington State Transportation Department. And we’re smack in the middle of that proving ground. Two level-two charging stations (four to six hours at 240 volts) already are available at Clark Public Utilities’ headquarters. Plenty more are on the way, here and around the area. Federal grants are rolling out for numerous charging-station programs in six states including, fortunately, Washington and Oregon.

Whether you leave the driving to someone else or are investigating electric cars for your own driving, the technology news just keeps getting better.