SEPTA unveils real-time tools for bus and trolley riders

Regional rail riders have been able to get real-time information about their trains since 2009.
Now, bus and trolley riders have the same ability.

SEPTA unveiled TransitView Thursday morning, which is meant to complement the popular TrainView for regional rail.

But the system has several key differences.

Instead of giving an on-time status for each bus and trolley in the system, riders can see the last known location of all the buses and trolleys along the route they’re interested in.

The system does have some limitations, however.

As Ron Hopkins, the head of SEPTA’s control center, said at a press conference, SEPTA only gets real-time GPS information from its fleet every three minutes ― meaning the authority is providing information about vehicles’ last known location, not their present one.

Vehicles that have been out of contact with SEPTA’s GPS system for an extended period of time are marked.

TransitView also doesn’t reliably show subway-surface trolleys in the tunnel.

Still, SEPTA general manager Joe Casey said the system will prove important to customers, while also avoiding the pitfalls other transit agencies made by attempting to provide exact ETAs for vehicles at specific stops ― something that is notoriously difficult to do.

SEPTA has also rolled out an SMS text messaging service which allows riders to see the next four vehicles scheduled to stop at a given transit stop, using the stop’s unique ID number.

Hopkins said each of the about 15,000 bus and trolley stop signs in the system will be replaced over the next two to three years.

Casey said replacement would begin in Center City and spread outward.

Until then, riders can find their stop ID online using a new SEPTA webpage.

Hopkins said the text messaging service is free to SEPTA because Texmarx Global Solutions ― the text messaging provider ― includes advertisements in each text.

However, T-Mobile and Sprint customers, which represent about a quarter of cell phone users in the region, won’t be able to access the service because the company doesn’t have an agreement with them.

The service also doesn’t provide real-time information, just scheduled bus and trolley runs ― though Hopkins said SEPTA is looking at providing real-time information over text message.

SEPTA also unveiled a new online set of schedules specifically designed for use with mobile phones.

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