One of the issues the soon to be disbanded Technology Committee discussed in the last year was a proposal for digital signs along our bus transit routes to report bus ETAs.

Just a week after voting to dissolve the group, the Town is poised to make an extremely expensive technology mistake.

While other municipalities, like Portsmouth UK, with 305 buses, and Cedar Rapids, with a planned 50 bus deployment, are getting security, digital ETA and both fixed and mobile Internet access, we’re about to spend $950K of Federal monies on a proprietary, single-use system from NextBus, Inc.

From the April 23rd HeraldSun:

Kurt Neufang, interim director of Chapel Hill Transit, which serves Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the UNC campus, said the digital information signs will help make the system more convenient for riders. Neufang said he hopes the signs will be installed and working by August.

“We’re trying to get it done before the beginning of the [fall] semester,” Neufang said.

Federal money helped fund the bulk of the $949,025 project, he said.

Nothing like over paying big bucks for the privilege of proprietary technology lock-in.

Why “for a few dollars less”?

Cedar Rapids is spending $125K on their 7 mile long system covering more stops, with security, mobile access and the capability for their Motorola mesh network to carry police, fire and other first-responder network traffic.

Another example of the wasted opportunity: St. Cloud, Florida

  • $4,000,000 cumulative ANNUAL savings to the community! [link]
  • 28,000 residents
  • 10,000 households
  • 15 square miles
  • $200 per household one time capital cost, $3.33 operational cost/month
  • FREE high speed access

So, for about twice the cost of 14 digital bus stop signs the community of St. Cloud is getting town-wide ubiquitous FREE high speed broadband.

Just a great example of how a citizen’s board can intervene before the Town makes a seriously expensive technology expenditure mistake.

I’ll be trying, as a citizen, to get our Council to try an approach that maximizes the use of these funds, to reconsider NextBus and to substitute a solution that delivers much more for the citizen’s dollar.

[UPDATE:] Saw this article on St. Cloud’s initial rollout. There’s been a few bumps on the road but the first 45 days of service are quite impressive: “50,000 users sessions…just 842 help line calls….3,500 registered users and 176,189 hours of usage.”

The Technology Board discussed educational strategies for making sure the citizenry’s initial expectations aligned with the reality of any initial technology rollout.

[UPDATE:] Spoke with Cedar Rapid’s Five Seasons Parking and Transportation about their system. Short story: ETA works, realtime security video doesn’t, few folk using mobile Internet capability, educational effort ongoing. Portsmouth UK is a model I think we should investigate seriously.

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