Officials: Bus monitors help to increase ridership

BY BAJ VISSER | JANUARY 26, 2012 7:20 AM

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University of Iowa student Alison Boltz used to stand outside in the cold extra early to make sure she didn't miss her bus.

The Currier resident said the new bus monitors installed in dorms across campus have helped her keep track of when her bus will arrive.

"I don't carry my laptop around with me all day, so having these screens available is awesome." Boltz said. "… Especially when the weather's like this — you don't want to be out longer than you have to."

Over the holiday break, the Bongo transportation project installed a number of bus monitors screens across Iowa City and campus. The screens display the location and arrival times of the Cambus and Iowa City transit.

"This was something we had an interest in from early on," said Romy Bolton, director of enterprise services at the UI Information Technology Services.

The cost of the new screens are covered entirely by a $37,000 grant from the federal government, Bolton said. "We wanted to make certain that everyone who wanted to put up one of these new signs had the opportunity to."

And some officials say the monitors are another key component in the Bongo system's ability to increase ridership.

Bolton said ridership on the Iowa City Transit, Coralville, and the UI's Cambus transit services have all increased since Bongo was instituted. Iowa City has seen a 5 percent increase, while Coralville has seen a 10 percent increase. Cambus recorded its largest ridership of more than 4 million for the fiscal 2011.

Bongo costs the University, through both Cambus and ITS, a total of $50,000 a year.

The first screen was set up in the Old Capitol Town Center, and others have been placed in the Carver College of Medicine, UI dorms and the Coralville Public Library. Both Kirkwood Community College and Coral Ridge Mall have all expressed interest in the screens, Bolton said. Expansion to these locations and elsewhere could happen as soon as February.

"It's just one more layer of convenience we're providing for our users," said Chris O'Brien, Iowa City's director of parking and transportation.

Bolton also noted the impact the increased ridership can have on the environment.

"That's fewer cars and the road and more feet on the buses," Bolton said. "It's got a huge sustainability impact."

Bongo was acknowledged as "the first regional, real-time passenger information system in the U.S." by the American Public Transit Association at their 2011 expo. The service was even highlighted on the Department of Transportation's Fast Lane blog.

"We were contacted a few days ago by an agency from California asking about how much our QR codes are used and if they were worth the screen real estate," Bolton said. "Communities from all over the country, including Los Angeles, are looking at what we're doing with Bongo for inspiration."

O'Brien said riders like the dependability of the system.

"If people know there's a delay due to accidents or weather, they're more willing to accept it and work around it," he said.

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