Ocean City Today

Resort buys new bus locator system with smartphone app

By Katie Tabeling | Aug 31, 2017
Photo by: Katie Tabeling

(Sept. 1, 2017) The Ocean City Transportation Department will continue to know where its buses are, following the City Council’s approval Tuesday of the department’s request to buy TransLoc, a web-based bus tracking system.

“Without a tracking system in the back of the house, we’re back to using radio. You’re essentially flying blind,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins told the council.

The new system will replace a setup installed in 2004 that directs buses through the AirTrack auto vehicle locator system, which is comprised of several computer screens on the second floor of the tram station on the Boardwalk.

AirTrack was designed for truck deployment, Transit Manager Mark Rickards said. AirTrack has worked well, but this summer was a different story. In all, the system has been out of service for about 96 hours, including a three-day period in mid-July.

“Sometimes it needs a reboot, but we’re finding it to be more frequent as the system ages,” he said. “It’s also only available to supervisors when they’re in the office. We have dispatchers at 65th Street [public works complex] that can’t access it.”

TransLoc will allow city staff to check bus deployment remotely, either from online or through a smartphone. Rickards also said it would also improve the transit system’s customer service, since it would allow the public to track the buses as well.

“Nowadays in the transit industry, people want to see where the bus is to plan their trip. In bad weather, they can wait inside while tracking it, and when it arrived, you make a mad dash for it,” he said.

The 125 bus stops would also include decals with a phone number visitors can text to for information on when the next bus will arrive.

‘The information will be the same,” Rickards said. “The difference is that the bus locations will refresh every second and be available to everyone.”

TransLoc calls for mounting a computer tablet on the buses at $400 per tablet and $16,502 for total installation. This would mostly be covered by the $80,000 allocated in the budget’s transportation fund.

However, the annual cost for operating the system would increase from $8,733 to $44,280. Budget Manager Jennie Knapp said this was because the resort only pays to operate AirTrack five months of the year, while TransLoc would have to be active the whole year.

“We will look for another $20,000 to cover the rest of the costs, either through a transfer to the transportation fund or we’ll have to find it,” Knapp said. “Or if we can get $36,000 additional revenue out of it [bus ridership], I’ll be happy.”

Rickards added that with TransLoc would have other benefits such as being able to integrate with the future bus surveillance camera system.

The new system would be advertised on various social media channels like Facebook and YouTube, and ads on the buses, transit station and marquees at the bus shelter.

Council Secretary Mary Knight supported TransLoc and asked the staff to consider expanding the system to the trams during the next budget season. She also suggested contacting to the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association to advertise to its membership.

“I can see as if I’m at Fager’s and on my last drink and I know I’m near stop 18. I know a bus will be there in 20 minutes, so I say my goodbyes and pay my tab,” she said. “It’d be a great partnership.”

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