New CTA Technology Aims to Reduce Bus Delays, Provide More Consistent Service

May 11, 2015

Bus management system shows big drop in service gaps, provides better communications

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) officials today demonstrated a new technology designed to provide more consistent and reliable bus service.

The technology, known as Bus Transit Management System (BTMS), provides real-time monitoring of bus movements and modern real-time communications between bus drivers and CTA’s Control Center. The system will allow buses to more quickly adapt to changing traffic and street conditions, and help avoid the two biggest challenges facing bus service: bus “bunching” and long waits between buses.

“The CTA under Mayor Emanuel has significantly invested in technology as a key method of improving service to customers and modernizing our transit system,” said CTA President Forrest Claypool. “This includes installing 4G wireless service in our subways, substantially expanding and enhancing Bus and Train Tracker service and increasing the number of security cameras on every CTA bus, train and station to more than 23,000. We’re committed to providing excellent service to our customers and to making the necessary investments to fulfill our promise to do so.”

Through touch-screen terminals on every CTA bus, BTMS allows for improved two-way communication between drivers and CTA’s Communication and Power Control (C/PC), the command center that monitors all bus and train operations throughout the service region.

The system enables the Control Center to better track the location and movement of buses, and quickly convey route or speed changes to operators in order to ensure proper spreading of buses and adherence to schedule when possible.. If Control Center personnel detect conditions that could lead to a service delay or bus bunching—more than one bus arriving at a stop at or near the same time—they can instruct the driver to adjust the route accordingly. Further, if the Control Center needs to send a message to multiple buses about a reroute due to police or fire activity, it can be done instantaneously.

Testing on buses at two South Side CTA garages that initially received the new system has shown significant improvement to bus service. Since January 2015, bus “big gaps”— defined as larger-than-scheduled periods of time between buses — on nine of the busiest South Side bus routes have dropped an average of nearly 40 percent.

CTA officials noted that because buses share the same streets as all other vehicles, they will always be subject to various traffic conditions beyond the CTA’s control, from stalled cars and construction work to regular rush-hour congestion. “But this new technology will allow us to preemptively act even before those delays occur, so that we can minimize the inconvenience to our customers,” Claypool said.

BTMS replaces an outdated bus communications system that is at the end of its useful life, and does not provide location information or other state-of-the-art functionality of the new system. BTMS is built upon the same system that powers Bus Tracker and automated bus announcements.

By later this summer, all of CTA’s approximately 1,800 buses will be equipped with BTMS. The full deployment of software and hardware is budgeted at $8.8 million. The system will be paid for by federal funding.

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