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Chapel Hill Transit to reimplement real-time bus tracking using new equipment

A Chapel Hill transit bus drives down South Road on Sept. 12, 2022.

After a series of delays, Chapel Hill Transit is beginning to receive the new equipment needed to get Next Bus live bus tracking running again.

Chapel Hill Transit Director Brian Litchfield said as of last week, Chapel Hill Transit has received and installed 25 units of tracking technology from Next Bus, but it has yet to receive and install most of the remaining units.

Transit users have been without a real-time bus tracking system since 3G networks that supported Next Bus tracking were deactivated in February 2022

“I can’t give a solid timeline as to when it will be back at this point, but the good news is, at the start of the year, we had zero units,” Litchfield said. “As of this week, we had 25. They're installed. So, we're hoping that the next 70 will be shipped soon and we'll be able to get them installed and that system back up and running.”

New modems were initially slated to arrive in 2021, but have been delayed several times. Litchfield said supply chain issues have made the last year difficult and frustrating for customers and Chapel Hill Transit as a whole.

The revamped Next Bus system will be using 5G modems, according to a Chapel Hill Transit news release.

Litchfield said even though it is bringing back Next Bus, Chapel Hill Transit is looking to replace it with a new system in the near future. He said it has finalized a contract with a new company, which uses different proprietary technology than Next Bus and will not be encounter the same issues.

“I think it's important for folks to know that there's also a new system that's going to be replacing Next Bus, hopefully, if not this spring, hopefully this summer and before students come back for the fall semester,” he said.

Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said the absence of real-time tracking has been impacting him and other transit users, despite bus schedules being available online and in Google Maps transit directions.

“The schedules are out there. But they really don't replace the convenience of having real time data available,” he said. 

Seils said it has been inconvenient to not be able to access real time information. He said that, from his own personal experience, the lack of data may cause people to miss busses.

Seils and Chapel Hill Town Council member Michael Parker both serve on the Chapel Hill Public Transit Committee. Parker said the committee surveys transit riders every two years, as well as citizens who use the EZ Rider program, to gauge customer satisfaction and see what adjustments need to be made.

“There is actually a rider advisory committee, and we meet regularly to discuss any issues and bring information both to the management and to the partners committee,” he said. “So, we take customer feedback and customer satisfaction very seriously.”

Seils said the main feedback he hears from customers is about the frequency and timeliness of bus service, both of which he believes are related to challenges with a lack of real-time tracking.

“Other comments I typically hear about are: ‘We wish the buses would run later at night,’ which I would also love to see. And I think that's part of us. Once we're able to get back up to 100 percent of operations, we'll see more of those later night bus hours,” he said.


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