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Austin, Texas, Gets Green Light on High-Tech Bus Fleet

The 40-bus fleet will have traffic signal priority – technology that communicates with traffic signals to give the buses an extended green light.

by / August 2, 2013
The new fleet of 40 high-tech buses will include traffic signal priority, mobile ticketing and free Wi-Fi on board for passengers. Photo courtesy of Austin, Texas, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The Austin, Texas, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority will launch a new fleet of high-tech buses next year that will give them priority when passing through an intersection.

The 40-bus fleet called MetroRapid will be rolling out on two of Austin’s public bus routes next spring. Each red and gray bus will be equipped with traffic signal priority capability. The GPS technology communicates with the city’s traffic signal management system so when a bus approaches a green traffic light, that light will remain green for an additional seven seconds so the bus can pass through without stopping, according to the authority’s Vice President and CIO Joe Iannello.

“Through this collaboration, our [GPS] system that knows the location of the bus and other information is communicating with the city’s system in order to provide that handshake,” Iannello said.

The traffic signal priority is expected to keep the buses running faster to help them arrive at bus stops on time. Iannello said while he considers Capital Metro to be an early adopter of the traffic signal capability, U.S.-based transportation agencies are beginning to use the technology.

Last year the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City launched a test pilot of traffic signal priority technology along the Select Bus Service (SBS) corridors to reduce rider commute times and improve bus arrival performance.

Riders will also see new technology integrations when they arrive at the MetroRapid bus stations once the new fleet is launched. Each station will display digital message signs that provide real-time data on predicted arrival times for each bus. Although buses are expected to run every 10 minutes, the predicted arrival times will factor in possible traffic delays or anything else that could impact schedules.

Next year, MetroRapid riders will also have the option to pay their fare using a mobile ticketing app.

The free app, currently in development, has no official name yet, but will be available on iOS, Android and Windows smartphones and tablets. Scanners will be available at the front and back bus doors so riders can validate their tickets upon entry using the app.

Validation of mobile tickets will only be available on MetroRapid buses, but the mobile ticketing app will allow riders to purchase tickets for any of Capital Metro’s bus and rail services.

Each bus will also be equipped with free Wi-Fi, a service that Iannello said will create safer conditions on the road.  Wi-Fi availability on public buses gives commuters the chance to check email on board instead of while driving themselves in vehicles.

“It’s not only high productivity, but it’s also safe as opposed to somebody driving and checking their messages,” Iannello said. “They’ll be able to be on one of these nice buses and having that free Internet service.”

According to John Julitz, a spokesman for Capital Metro, 21,000 riders are expected to board MetroRapid buses per day when both routes are in service. The two bus routes alone serve 25 percent of the entire Capital Metro service area.

To fund the project, Capital Metro received a $38 million grant from the Federal Transit Authority, which will cover 80 percent of the project’s $47.6 million total cost. The remaining 20 percent of funding will come from local sources.

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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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