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New technology could lead to more efficient Bull Runner

As most passengers of the Bull Runner shuttle know, what should be a 15-minute wait for the bus can swell to 30 or 40 minutes. Soon, however, Parking and Transportation Services will attempt to alleviate the aches and pains of transit with a novel change.

Toward the close of the Spring semester, PTS will test new equipment and software in its Bull Runner shuttles designed to gather information on passengers. Students boarding the shuttle will be required to swipe their USF ID at every stop, on or off campus. The information gathered will be used to improve existing routes. Full implementation is not expected until fall.

The Passenger Count Project, as it is tentatively titled on an official PTS notice, will cost roughly $60,000 to test, including the purchase and installation of card-reading devices and the software needed to interpret the recorded data. The bulk of the funding comes from the Transportation Access Fee, a $2.25 per credit hour fee paid by each student every semester.

“This is bare bones,” said Manuel Lopez, director of PTS. “We wanted to start real basic for now, and see how it goes, and make sure that it’s something we can benefit from before we put any more resources into it.”

A concern with the HARTLine U-Pass program gave rise to the project. Flyers circulated by PTS state that the program, in a partnership between USF and the Hillsborough Area Transit Authority, allows students to ride HARTLine buses for free with a valid USF ID.

Contrary to the text of the official notice, however, which underscores the importance of protecting the student investment in the Bull Runner, a more pressing concern is preventing non-students from riding the HARTLine buses fare-free with an expired USF ID. Only after considering card-scanning devices for HARTLine buses, was it thought to use them for the Bull Runner also.

“We wanted to look for a way to monitor and control (abuse of the U-Pass program). As a result of that, as a by-product, we realized that we could get a lot of benefit of doing that on our Bull Runner service also,” Lopez said.

For the pilot project, the devices will record the number of passengers at each stop and when they board. According to the official notice, the data will be used to track boarding frequency for the various routes, giving PTS more precise data with which to coordinate them. More shuttles may relieve high-volume stops and times, for example.

“We can make modifications to the routes themselves, a better utilization of our resources,” Lopez said.

Now, drivers are instructed simply to count the number of passengers every 30 minutes, said one driver, who requested anonymity because he was unsure whether he was allowed to discuss procedure.

There is the chance, however, that the software could be expanded to gather other data.

“This type of system is expandable in the future, assuming there is budget, and assuming there is a need,” Lopez said.