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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Late night shuttle debuts new real-time tracker app

By Zoe Buchli

Western students now have access to a real-time tracker app that allows riders to follow the location of the late night shuttle.

The app went live in January and gives students the ability to track the late night shuttle using minute-by-minute updates. The app is called Ride Systems, and it’s free for both iPhone and Android users to download.

Its real-time features enable users to pinpoint the shuttle’s exact location and estimated time of arrival.

The app immediately pinpoints your location and pulls up a map of shuttles near you. You can search active shuttles, or all shuttles, regardless of if they’re active. This makes the service much safer and eliminates students having to wait in the dark for the shuttle to arrive.

When the shuttle is approaching a stop, the app will notify riders that the shuttle is arriving, Student Transportation Program Support Supervisor Kay McMurren said.

The map also shows all the shuttles’ locations so students can follow their location even if they aren’t arriving at a stop yet.

The shuttle is free to ride for all students with valid Western ID cards.

Junior Natalie Reeder used the shuttle her freshman year at Western, but stopped using it due to its inaccessibility.

“I’m more likely to Uber since in the Uber app you can see exactly where it is and when it’s arriving,” Reeder said.

Now, the shuttle will also have this feature, and the app will allow riders to follow the location of the shuttle in the same way Uber riders can follow the location of their car.

Ride Systems also enables riders to see if the shuttle is running late or is canceled for any reason, like ice or snow.

If the service is canceled, students will be notified by the app, and can also check under the “alerts” tab on the right side of the screen, McMurren said.

In addition to improving accessibility, the app also makes traveling on the shuttle safer for its riders.

“It’s not safe if you’re just sitting there in the dark for 20 minutes having to guess when it gets there, so this is definitely a big safety improvement,” Reeder said.

The shuttle has two routes, A and B, which travel in opposite directions of each other throughout north and south campus, according to the Western Transportation website. Route A departs from the Viking Union and Route B leaves from Haggard Hall. The shuttle operates Monday-Saturday from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., and Sundays from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Before the app was introduced, students had to rely on the PDF schedule, which is still available online and in the Western Wheels app.

McMurren said she first learned about these types of systems around four years ago, and decided to use Ride Systems based on its reasonable cost and good product.

“The Ride Systems app costs $515 per month,” McMurren said. “The total late night shuttle expense represents 16-17 percent of the [Student Transportation] program’s expenses.”

The app and shuttle are funded by the Alternative Transportation Fee, and are a part of the Student Transportation Program, and not in any way affiliated with Whatcom Transportation Authority, McMurren said.

“I think it will definitely start getting used more because of this app, because it’s obviously a much cheaper alternative to Uber or Lyft,” Reeder said.

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