New C-Tran service revs up quickly

Automated bus-tracking option gets 6,500 calls in first month

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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BY THE NUMBERS

Total calls, through July 17: 6,518.

Average weekday NextRide calls: 240.5 per day.

Average weekend NextRide calls: 213.5 per day.

Largest total: 317 on July 16.

Smallest total: 152 on June 20.

CALLS BY ROUTE

No. 4 (Fourth Plain): 1,773.

No. 37 (Highway 99/Mill Plain): 1,721.

No. 32 (Hazel Dell/Evergreen/Andresen): 867.

No. 30 (Burton): 788.

No. 44 (Fourth Plain limited): 764.

Source: C-Tran

About a month after its launch, C-Tran’s new “NextRide” system appears to be gaining traction. The automated bus-tracking service has fielded more than 6,500 calls since it came online June 20, according to C-Tran.

The biggest day so far was Saturday, when NextRide received 317 calls.

“As word continues to get out, we certainly expect those numbers to grow,” said Scott Patterson, C-Tran’s public affairs director.

Here’s how it works: While waiting at a bus stop, passengers can call C-Tran’s passenger service number, 360-695-0123, to reach NextRide. Enter a four-digit stop ID number posted on the sign, and NextRide will estimate the time until the next bus arrives. If there’s no ID number posted — not all stops have them yet, Patterson said — a series of automated prompts direct callers to find their stop before giving the arrival time of the bus.

The system uses GPS tracking devices installed on C-Tran’s fleet a few years ago, keying on bus location and speed to create an arrival estimate. With similar services offered by other transit districts, including Portland’s TriMet, NextRide was a logical step for C-Tran, Patterson said.

“We get calls from passengers quite often wondering if their bus is on time,” Patterson said. “It’s more the direction the industry is going, and we knew it would be a highly valued item.”

NextRide’s numbers appear to support that. The volume of calls has followed a generally upward trend since the beginning, according to the data.

About 4,800 of 6,500 total calls to NextRide have come in during weekdays, for a daily average of 240 calls Monday through Friday. That average drops to 213 on weekends, when C-Tran ridership is lighter.

Two of C-Tran’s busiest routes account for the biggest chunk of calls so far. Bus routes 4 and 37 — serving the Fourth Plain and Mill Plain corridors, respectively — each saw more than 1,700 NextRide calls seeking bus whereabouts through Sunday. The next-busiest route, No. 32 through Hazel Dell and downtown Vancouver, generated 867 calls, according to the data.

The lowest? That would be route 190 to Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Just five people checked the location of that bus using NextRide during the first month.

Riders weigh in

Charlie Boyce hasn’t used the new system just yet, but said he plans to. The Washougal resident sat at Fisher’s Landing Transit Center in east Vancouver on Monday, a bag of soccer balls in tow, on his way to help lead a soccer camp.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Boyce, who’s relied more on public transit and bicycling since his car broke down in January.

Dana Packer, also of Washougal, hasn’t found a need for NextRide. She said her buses are usually on time. But when Packer wants to check, she prefers the old-fashioned service line to navigating an automated phone menu.

“It’s nice to talk to a breathing person,” Packer said.

The new system hasn’t been without a few hitches. Tall buildings, particularly in downtown Portland, interfere with buses’ GPS devices and make it difficult to pin down exact locations, Patterson said. In that case, the system simply defaults to the scheduled arrival time, he said.

C-Tran officials tested NextRide with a user group before launching it last month. Subsequent monitoring continues to generate good feedback, Patterson said.

“The response so far has been very, very positive,” Patterson said.

If NextRide isn’t your thing, not to worry: C-Tran’s call center will still offer updates if you’d rather speak to a real person.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541 or eric.florip@columbian.com.