Breckenridge Free Ride transit system introduces new technology
February 18, 2014
The Breckenridge Free Ride is one of the smallest transit systems in the country, with a fleet of only 13 buses. But this tiny agency is the first in Colorado to bring some new technology to customers.
A four-year "Intelligent Transportation Systems" strategic plan has resulted in a new mobile application with live GPS bus coordinates, a text-messaging service and interactive scheduling.
Maribeth Lewis-Baker, Free Ride transit manager, said with the "Where's My Bus?" program, riders can see where the buses are on the routes and get a general idea of when a bus will arrive at a certain stop.
"Where's My Bus?" receives GPS data coordinates from the buses through digital radios, which were purchased with a grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation. The GPS data then goes to the bus tracker via the Internet.
“To bring this type of technology to the community, we are leaps and bounds ahead of other places. It’s atypical; we’re one of the smallest transit agencies to bring in technology like this.”
Free Ride transit manager
"We have a lot of unique riders using that technology," Lewis-Baker said. "It's showing we are effectively reaching customers, and it's far better than a printed schedule."
There is a slight delay of data transmission as it goes through the Internet, between one and two minutes. The radio sends GPS coordinate updates every 30 seconds and the information is then pushed through for display on the bus tracker. An app is available for Android and iPhone by searching "ride systems."
During January, the Free Ride's bus tracker was used more than 3,200 times on the website, and 6,000 times on the mobile app.
"We weren't really sure how it would be received by the public," Lewis-Baker said. "But it's been used a lot more than what we were thinking. It's really impressive."
Several ski area buses have been outfitted with the digital radios to display blue, green and black routes on the same bus tracker with the town-operated routes, making for one coordinated transit system.
There is also an SMS text-messaging system for the Free Ride buses, "Bus Times by Text." Recently, the transit system installed signs at every bus stop, which contain a unique code that can be texted to 41411. Riders will receive a reply text with the next arrival times for that bus stop. More than 5,000 reply text messages were sent by the system in January.
Free Ride spends about $6,000 annually for Internet service for the GPS signal, the text messaging and the website. That's less, Lewis-Baker said, than other transit organizations spend per month just on cell phone bills for some services.
"To bring this type of technology to the community, we are leaps and bounds ahead of other places," she said. "It's atypical; we're one of the smallest transit agencies to bring in technology like this."
The Free Ride website, http://www.breckfreeride.com launched in April 2013 to incorporate these new emerging transit technologies. Along with the website, Free Ride began using Twitter (@BreckFreeRide) to provide up-to-the-minute service alerts. The Twitter account is also used to announce lost and found items turned in from buses and at the Breckenridge station.
November 2012 saw the Interactive Schedule available for smart phones and devices. Visitors can use the "locate me" feature, or enter an address, to find the Free Ride bus route and bus stops nearest to their location. People can also see the next scheduled buses for certain stops.
For January, the Interactive Schedule had 819 unique users and provided about 7,000 responses with schedule data to patrons. Lewis-Baker said the public response to the new rider tools has been positive, since they have been able to reach customers more effectively.
Free Ride has more grant applications in the works, in hopes of securing funding to expand the reach of technology through the next phase of the project, which is to install display screens at key locations.
"We want to help people better plan their trip," Lewis-Baker said. "I've been at a bus stop and pulled up the app, figured out right where the bus is, and people ask, 'Can I do that too?'"
For more information about the new Free Ride technology, visit http://www.breckfreeride.com.