As of Tuesday, Chapel Hill residents will lose access to real-time bus tracking services for at least four months following the deactivation of AT&T's 3G networks.
Bus tracking systems like TransLoc, which operates through Nextbus, receive tracking and GPS information through AT&T’s 3G service. Following the company's discontinuation of their networks Tuesday, the 3G modems used by Nextbus systems stopped sending bus location data to tracking apps.
Director of Chapel Hill Transit Brian Litchfield said the buses need to install new modems before tracking services are able to resume. The department already placed an order through Nextbus, but the shipment will not arrive for around 20 weeks due to supply chain issues.
Chapel Hill Transit recommended that transit customers utilize the online bus schedules posted on the Town of Chapel Hill website to estimate bus times in a Monday press release.
But Litchfield said a drawback of the online schedules is that they don't provide information on traffic, weather or detour delays.
“From a personal perspective as a regular user of Chapel Hill Transit and other places, I know how important the real-time system is for our customers and understand what the impact of the shutdown will be,” he said.
UNC junior Ainsley Duke said the loss of TransLoc will affect her daily bus habits, but will likely take advantage of online bus schedules in the meantime.
“It would just be more of a hassle because the buses come at different times every day,” she said.
Customers can also use the Transit app, which uses crowdsourced data as opposed to cellular signals to provide bus arrival estimates, Litchfield said.
It will be unaffected by the 3G shutdown.
“Real-time information is one of the best things you can provide for your customers," Litchfield said. "It’s not always perfect, but it's better than looking at a paper schedule, or a digital schedule and wondering if the bus is going to come."
Allison Burnett, a freshman at UNC, said she uses TransLoc to get to classes each day. Because she checks the app to determine when to leave, she said the loss of TransLoc will greatly affect her daily schedule.
“I’ll probably end up walking because if I don’t know when it's coming, I can’t take it,” she said.
Jonathan Mengistu, a UNC medical student, said he rides the bus every day and follows schedules posted at bus stops. He said that the schedules are accurate in the morning, but buses are often delayed later in the day.
“More often the bus isn’t on time or is either late or early, so being able to track it helps a lot,” Mengistu said.
The AT&T shutdown will impact bus tracking around the country.
Litchfield said local transit cannot do anything about the situation because it is in AT&T's hands. The department has attempted to find alternatives, such as 3G Verizon modems, but has been unsuccessful so far, Litchfield said.
For now, he is asking customers to be as patient as possible. For information or questions, customers can call the regional information center at 919-485-7433.
"We will continue to do our best to provide the best possible service that we can," Litchfield said.
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