Smart-phone app connects UNC Charlotte students to free shuttle service

Nov 26, 2014 | Uncategorized

NextRide graphic

Bus icons move in real time on smart-phone app.

One knock against buses has been the difficulty of knowing when the next one might reach your stop. Problem solved – if you ride free shuttle buses at UNC Charlotte. A GPS-based smart-phone app tells when the next bus will arrive and even shows buses moving in real time around the campus!

UNC Charlotte’s NextRide provides Campus Shuttle and evening SafeRide tracking on a map along with arrival predictions, schedules and service alerts. To access the free service, users simply download a free app to their Android or iPhone. The real-time GPS tracking map shows the current location of all shuttle buses, plus color-coded route and bus icons for easy identification.

Gary Caton, director of parking and transportation services, says students have appreciated the real-time information, especially when waiting for rides on rainy days, or when using the SafeRide shuttles late at night.

“On a rainy day they can stand inside a building and see the bus coming (on their phones), then run out and catch the bus,” he says.

The campus also uses the service for its evening SafeRide program, which provides van service on set routes from 6 pm to 2 am, seven days a week. Knowing when the next bus will arrive without having to wait at a dark bus stop is probably the main reason that ridership has risen nearly 20% in the last year, Caton says.

Helping students make ‘intelligent decision’

Caton said that he and others in his department first considered adding the GPS mapping service to help people needing late-night rides. Then they realized that it would help everyone who rides campus buses. The east-west cross-campus route alone now carries about 81,000 riders each semester. The university looked at several services and chose Utah-based NextRide because of its ability to show all buses and SafeRide vans on a single map.

“We wanted a holistic system so that students could make an intelligent decision” about which bus might work best for them, Caton said – or whether their best option might simply be to walk. “You can walk from the furthest parking lot to the center of campus in less than 15 minutes,” Caton says. “But at night or on hot, rainy days, it’s a lot more convenient (to ride a bus) than to be able to walk.

“And for safety purposes at night, students don’t have to leave their enclosed area, like a dorm or the library, until they can see it and run out and get it.”

The system launched in fall 2013. Thanks to a feedback feature in the app, students soon let Caton know that NextRide needed improvement: The refresh rate on the GPS maps was so slow, buses often appeared to jump right past their next stop, meaning that students could not rely on the app to plan their trips. The vendor soon found a solution. “Now there is a 5-second refresh rate, so now you can see buses mover right around campus,” Caton said.

Want to see the service?

CLICK HERE to view the service on your desktop or laptop computer. The webpage also has links to get either the iPhone or Android app, called UNCC NextRide.

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