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New tracker application allows riders to locate FastCAT Express buses

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 | 8:02 p.m. CDT; updated 7:45 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 3, 2012

COLUMBIA — MU senior Chelsea Thordarson has been riding the FastCAT Express to campus since August — a change she said has let her avoid walking inconvenient distances to her classes.

"It would be nice if more people would ride it, like they do in the bigger cities," Thordarson said.

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Due to the FastCAT's schedule, Thordarson typically waits about 20 minutes for the bus to arrive. She said she had heard a GPS tracking system for FastCAT, which would allow riders to remotely track the buses' locations, was in the works .

The tracking system is, in fact, complete. After several weeks of delays, the city has released an online tracker at ridefastcat.com, which is expected to be announced to the public in a few days. 

"I'd definitely use it," Thordarson said.

The city had expected to complete the tracking system prior to the FastCAT's Aug. 13 launch, but issues with the initial developer, RouteMatch Software Inc., led the city to stop working with the software company and develop its own system, said Steve Sapp, a spokesman with the Columbia Public Works Department. The resulting application, RideFastCAT, was a collaborative effort between the city's Information Technologies and Geospatial Information Services offices. 

Sapp said the city wasn't sure why RouteMatch had failed to deliver.

"We know they weren't able to produce a working product, so the project was brought in-house," Sapp said.

The tracker is designed to automatically update the buses' locations at user-selected time intervals. A second feature displays common points of interest along the bus routes, including parking garages, MU and Stephens College residence halls and downtown government buildings. 

An application for Android is available for free download at the Google Play store. Sapp said the information technology department is working to develop an iOS counterpart for Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads.  

"There's a fairly stringent process before we can get it into the online store," he said. 

Sapp said the city's goal is to complete a request for proposals and select a new vendor by Aug. 1, 2013. In the meantime, the information technology department is working on developing an often-requested feature: a method of tracking the buses' estimated time of arrival. 

"We're not 100 percent sure that that's possible," Sapp said. "But we're certainly working on it." 

He said the department hopes to provide the service in-house but will eventually turn to a more advanced vendor if necessary. 

For now, the two FastCAT buses are the only vehicles utilizing the tracking system. Sapp said he intends eventually to expand the program to track all of Columbia's public transportation, including the university-operated Tiger Line. 

Christa Holtzclaw, marketing specialist for Columbia Transit, said the tracking system meshed well with riders' needs.

"We've just rolled it out very, very recently," Holtzclaw said. "But we did get a lot of information that this is what people wanted." 

Data released from the public works department indicates that the average weekly ridership of the FastCAT 107, which costs $1.50 per ride, is about half that of the free route it replaced in August, the 106 Downtown Orbiter. From Aug. 13 to Sept. 15, about 1,035 passengers rode the FastCAT, compared with an average of 2,001 Downtown Orbiter passengers from October 2011 through August 2012.


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