Halloween means Helicopters

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

5:33pm, Tuesday, Oct. 31st, 2006, Halloween in downtown Chapel Hill means helicopters.

As I stepped out of my building at the corner of Church and Franklin streets, the first portent of tonight’s Chapel Hill-o-ween was the thrumming beat of helicopter blades. Two of the beast hovered high above downtown’s Franklin in a vain attempt to suss out the scope of tonight’s festivities. Why vain? Downtown was fairly quiet as the clouds continue to roll in and a very light drizzle falls.

Farther from town center, several apartment complexes appeared to be charging for parking. Town staff were busy setting out barrels. And the large portable traffic signs were positioned for action.

In years past the hubbub of Halloween is clearly audible from my home. With tonight’s anticipated record crowds the best way to see the action is to take the bus.

Realtime bus information available HERE.

On Tuesday, October 31, 2006, Tar Heel Express service will be provided to support the Halloween event. Buses will run from the following locations:

* Friday Center parking lot
* Jones Ferry park-n-ride lot
* Southern Village park-n-ride lot
* University Mall parking lot

Trips will begin at 9:00 PM and run until 2:30 AM. The cost is $5.00 per round trip, $3.00 one-way.
Chapel Hill Transit will also operate a modified service for the following night routes: D, J, NU, & TG

* D will end at 8:51 pm at Franklin @ Estes
* J will end at 8:56pm at Rock Creek Apts.
* NU will end at 8:56 pm at Carolina Coffee Shop
* TG will end at 9:20 pm University Mall.

For service concerning any of the information, please contact Chapel Hill Transit at (919) 968 – 2769.

Chapel Hill on Halloween is quite a sight. Please take your time, take care and, if you think of it, post some pics on Flickr using the tags “halloween”, “chapel hill”, “2006”.

Next Stop, NextBus.

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

According to the following Sept. 22nd Town news release, the NextBus system is nearly ready for its trial run.

Suggested online access is through Chapel Hill Transit’s www.chtransit.org site, the blue “Real Time Transit” link.

I suggest by-passing the lame Java-applet and go straight to the vastly simpler and more forward thinking Google Maps interface.


Click Map


I like the idea of a real-time passenger information system [dynamic updates and reports of bus positions within their routes] but I opposed using NextBus for several reasons.

NextBus uses proprietary technology instead of open standards alternatives that could have served both the needs of transit-tracking and blanketed large swaths of town with wireless Internet coverage. NextBus is also charging us more than other communities. NextBus uses cell-phone technology, uses increasingly wretched Cingular for coverage, has caps on cell data transfer [unlike Jane Doe Cingular Cingular customer, they don’t have unlimited plans] and will probably require additional financial outlays to remedy coverage problems. NextBus signage, because of the proprietary lock-in, can not be replaced with cheaper off-the-shelf versions.

The PR folks continue to emphasize that the majority of the $950K in tax monies spent came from a federal earmark [the hallmark of many a pork project] as if that means it’s free money – that it’s alright to make a poor deployment decision.

Most Chapel Hillian’s pay federal taxes and even if we didn’t that is no excuse for not really trying to do double duty with the same bucket of funds.

And, as before, Rep. Price is credited for his help though the campaign contributions received by Price from a NextBus executive and NextBus’ lobbyist remains unreported in the MSM.

Transit Ready for Real-Time

Chapel Hill Transit continues to move forward. This time, the local public transportation provider announces that the “real-time” passenger information system is up and running. Five bus stop locations in the community have electronic signage that allows passengers to observe the timing of the next scheduled bus arrival and departures.

“This is an exciting time for us,” commented Chapel Hill Transit Director Steve Spade. “We have been looking forward to implementing this technology. Along with providing convenience for our riders, the system is also a management tool. It will allow us to better manage the timing of our buses and significantly improve the delivery of our transit service.”

Chapel Hill Transit contracted with NextBus Inc. to procure and install an automatic vehicle location and passenger information system. The new signs are currently operating at the following park and ride lot locations: Eubanks Road, Southern Village, Jones Ferry and Highway 54. The stop on Franklin Street in front of the Caribou Coffee Shop also has an electronic arrival time sign. Plans are under way to equip nine additional stop locations with display signs, Spade said.

The “real-time” technology uses global positioning satellites to track buses on their routes. The system estimates the bus arrival and departure times. The information is available through the internet by going to www.chtransit.org, then clicking on the blue “Real Time Transit” link.

The majority of the funding for the system was obtained through a federal earmark requested by Congressman David Price. The total project cost is about $950,000.

I’ll be giving NextBus a month to hammer out the bugs in their system before reporting on its efficacy.

I’ll also keep an eye on service levels, additional costs and any other supposedly unanticipated problems that crop up over the next year.

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