December 23, 2014

Tech Talk: Here’s the latest on Metro transit technology

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TechnologyThe December St. Louis Post-Dispatch live chat didn’t have a specific topic, but it was clear there was one subject on everyone’s minds: technology.

So, we’re taking a moment to answer some of the tech questions from our live, online Q&A session to provide you with the latest updates on all of the technology projects we’re working on. Here’s what you can expect to see on your computer screens, phones, tablets and mobile devices in the near future.

Q: Can you give an update on the status of the real-time transit app? Thanks.

We’re currently working with Trapeze, a company that specializes in transit software, to test a real-time trip planning mobile application. The app will include a trip planning feature and route schedules, and provide both scheduled and real-time next departure times. We anticipate releasing this app on Android and iPhone platforms in early 2015.

In September, we added a new real-time feature to Metro’s desktop TripPlanner. This feature allows customers to view bus positions in real time for all 75 bus routes in the St. Louis region. In addition to pinpointing where a MetroBus vehicle is on a route, you can also find the current status of a particular bus route (on-time, early, late or no information available) and plan accordingly.

Metro transit is also developing other forms of mobile technology, including:

Mobile-FriendlyMobile-Friendly Trip Planner: We recently released a mobile-friendly version of TripPlanner available through a mobile browser. This new version allows customers to more easily access trip planning functions, route schedules and next departure times.

Text Alerts (SMS Updates): We’re working to provide transit information via text messaging. The text alert technology will provide customized route information regarding next departure times. Customers also may subscribe to receive text notifications of Rider Alerts on specific bus routes. We expect to roll out this technology sometime next summer.

Interactive Voice Response: Interactive Voice Response is also in the works for transit information, as well as Gateway Card information. Customers will be able to call and enter a customized number pertaining to a specific bus stop to receive the next three departure times. Customers also will be able to use this technology to receive information regarding the balance of their Gateway Card. This technology is planned for later in 2015.

Q: Will real-time information be available to third party app developers? If so, do you know when and in what format?

We currently provide developers access to our GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) files, which are accessible via our Developer Resources Page. GTFS-real time files are currently under development. We’re hoping to offer these files late next year.

MK14393-gateway-nextstopQ: Speaking of updates, what about the new smart card system?

To date, we’ve replaced all of our MetroBus fare boxes and upgraded our MetroLink validators and ticket vending machines. Approximately 100 MetroLink-only customers are now testing the Gateway Card. In addition, Metro’s College Semester passes are now being offered on a “hybrid” card that is both magnetic stripe and smart card. These tests are with regular fare riders who do not qualify for any reduced fare. In January, we’ll begin recruiting reduced fare rail-only riders to add to the mix.

The next major testing phase will happen this spring. At that time, we expect to add several hundred customers who use both MetroBus and MetroLink to the test group. We anticipate a more broad, phased implementation of smart cards following that phase of testing.

Q: Are you looking into any technological solutions regarding security? 

We’re exploring opportunities for creating technology that would allow customers to text security concerns to our central security dispatch center. This would require both specialized software and the staff resources to respond to these inquiries. Until new technology options are in place, remember that you can always contact Metro’s Department of Public Safety at 314-289-6873 if you have any concerns or questions while on the Metro transit system.


3 thoughts on “Tech Talk: Here’s the latest on Metro transit technology”

  1. kas says:

    I was in the Northern VA and Washington D.C. area earlier this month. Like the Chicago area CTA/RTA, `the D.C. WMATA seems very popular and riders have adopt to a smart card system. By the way, one is required to swipe the SmartTrip card both entering a Metro train station and again leaving your destination station. The charge to the card is based on zones and the time of the day. In Northern VA, I rode the DASH buses, a system that accepts the WMATA card. Even when the bus driver was not present, every passenger getting on would swipe the card and only once did I witness a person eating on the train.

    IMHO, Metro policy of an unlimited monthly plan should be done away with, when the Gateway card become available to the general public. $78 doesn’t provide that much ridership in either Chicago or for the D.C. area.

  2. aligo says:

    Hi Kas~

    Comparing STL to CHI + WDC is not comparing apples to apples. Have you considered cost of living in those cities versus St. Louis? If you put that into perspective, I think $78 gives an affordable option to general public here in STL and also considering Metro’s revenue from ticket/pass sales is only negligible.

    When you say “monthly plan should be done away with” what is your plan? What should it be replaced with?

    Aligo — Transit Aficionado!

  3. Joe Frank says:

    WMATA has had a turnstile-based, pay-by-distance system with peak and off-peak differentials for decades. CTA only recently implemented the Ventra card, but it’s still based on somewhat flat rate fares for bus and for the El, no peak / off-peak differential.

    The STL Metro system just does not provide nearly the same head-ways nor the same geographic coverage as those systems. So a flat-rate monthly pass / employer-sponsored annual pass is still the best way to provide efficient fare collection here. Even as we move toward preloading that flat monthly pass onto a smartcard, I still don’t see that payment method going away.

    I do anticipate demand for Metro service to increase a bit from WashU Med School employees, as the daily cash parking rate jumps from $6 to $15 a day in the WUSM garages on January 6 2015 (to match the rates charged at the nearby Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St Louis Children’s Hospital garages). I don’t plan to drive to work anymore on Mondays, but I’m already a Tuesday through Friday transit commuter so that doesn’t really benefit Metro much. I’m already getting a fully subsidized transit pass, regardless of whether that is the current mag-stripe card or perhaps eventually a contactless smartcard.

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