Management & Operations

Cedar Rapids buses go wireless

Posted on August 1, 2005

Five Cedar Rapids, Iowa, transit buses that travel along the city’s most heavily trafficked corridor have implemented mobile broadband technology to help enhance security and make riding the bus more fun. Using mobile mesh networking technology from Motorola and ITS software from the Trapeze Group, the project, which began last July, will allow passengers to wirelessly connect to the Internet or be entertained by streaming digital video that will include transit information to the city’s fleet. Motorola’s mesh network also includes built-in tracking and location features that will make it easy for Cedar Rapids to track its buses without relying on a costly GPS system. The installation is just one of many steps that Cedar Rapids is taking to revitalize its transit system citywide. “What I often remind people is that to continue to offer the services that they expect us to have, we have to have mechanisms in place that will help us create more opportunities to expand service,” says Bill Hoekstra, transportation and parking director for Five Seasons Parking and Transportation, the company that operates Cedar Rapids’ transit fleet. The new technology will enable transit authorities to remotely monitor video surveillance cameras that are already installed on the buses in real-time to enhance the safety and security of its passengers, drivers and vehicles. “It really helps our drivers act as supervisors on the bus because they know at all times what’s going on,” Hoekstra says. “It also makes the passengers feel good because they know that we are watching what’s going on.” To equip the first five buses it cost an estimated $125,000. Trapeze provided Cedar Rapids with a $55,000 grant to cover the costs, and the city raised an additional $46,000 through Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants to bring its total out-of-pocket expense to a mere $24,000. Hoekstra says that the entire fleet of 50 buses will soon be equipped with the technology as more funds become available, and that the costs to equip those buses will be cheaper since the backbone is already in place. In addition, the digital video entertainment that currently features house ads and real-time maps will soon be enhanced to include streaming versions of popular TV channels, such as CNN. Hoekstra also adds that his company is looking into possibly using the space to sell advertising, as well as provide a way for passengers to use it for on-vehicle travel planning. “We’ve chosen to use this technology because we saw that it was good for our city, our community and our riders,” Hoekstra says. “It goes a long way so that people don’t hold on to their old ideas as to what transit really is and was before the local and state governments got involved.”

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