New system could help bus riders plan their day

Keeping track of when his usual bus arrives at its stop has become a daily ritual for USF student Derick Flis.

That’s now possible, thanks to a nearly $300,000 new tracking system implemented in Bull Runner buses this month, said Manuel Lopez, director of USF Parking and Transportation Services (PATS).

The Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system, also known as Bull Tracker, was funded through PATS’ Transportation Reserve Fund made up of the Transportation Access Fee that students pay in tuition.

“I took the bus every day last year when I lived on 50th Street,” said Flis, a junior majoring in finance. “It would have made my life so much easier to be able to track the buses because I would have known when to leave my apartment.”

The system, which was a joint effort between PATS and Student Government (SG), allows riders to track the exact location of buses as they travel on their respective routes.

In April, the system will add a feature that informs riders of the number of passengers on each bus. USF is the only state university to use AVL and purchase its own campus bus fleet, Lopez said.

The free service can be accessed online at, where riders can view a live map and check arrival times at bus stops.

Students can also text 41411 with bus names, listed on the Web site, to receive mobile alerts of arrival times.

Rick Fallin, transportation manager of PATS, said the new system has had a positive impact on the operation and management of the bus system.

“It has been very, very beneficial in providing us with a lot of data to better space the routes, decreasing what we call ‘headway,'” Fallin said. “It also gives us a hard number of ridership to know exactly how many riders will be in the system and at which particular stops they get on and off.”

Other benefits include added security and safety for riders and decreased traffic and parking issues, said Andrew Cohen, director of SG’s University and Community Affairs.

Fallin said PATS hopes to add a feature allowing riders to subscribe to a certain bus schedule to receive daily alerts.

Cohen, the initiator of the project who has worked on this since summer 2008, said he already has ideas of how to make the system better.

“I saw that it needed to be done,” Cohen said of his initial plan. “The system could be improved to increase efficiency and safety on campus.”

His additional plans include adding large digital screens in the Marshall Student Center, USF Library and individual bus stops to provide riders with a live map of the Bull Runner routes.

Cohen said he is working with Google Maps to acquire more detailed street and sidewalk images to provide turn-by-turn walking directions and information about well-lit areas of campus to be available online.

The Bull Runner provides about 1 million individual rides each year, Cohen said.

Additional reporting by Ian Lanphier