Chapel Hill 2010: Snow, Snow, Snow

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Chapel Hill has a new tool to track road conditions during adverse conditions, like today’s 3 to 6 inches snowfall.

The GIS map showing roads salted, cleared and relevant services is here.

Good to see this finally in place. The Tech Board discussed just such an application of the GIS system about 6 years ago.

Current weather conditions, courtesy of the Weather Underground, are available here.

The Town’s NextBus service, which usually shows current locations of the buses on their routes is available here.

Big caveat, though (from Chapel Hill Transit):

CHT’s NextBus system estimates the next arrivals for buses in real time, based on each vehicle’s location and average speed. But when many vehicles are off-route or significantly delayed, it cannot make accurate arrival predictions. NextBus can, however, tell you if your line is delayed, or the location of the next vehicle.

Longtime readers might recall that was one of the criticisms (beyond the expense, lack of WIFI and rejection of a local vendor) I had of the NextBus system.

Latest updates on the transit system here.

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 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, 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.

NextBus – The Proposal

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

I’ve been reading through the town’s Request for Proposal (RFP) for our new Real-Time Passenger Information System and Automatic Vehicle Location system for Chapel Hill Transit.

There’s some interesting goofs (missing section 3.B.6) and specifications (Microsoft ODBC) in a document which appears to be a cut-n-paste of Triangle Transit, Federal and local requirements.

From the RFP we see

The System shall undergo functional testing onsite in a test environment for a minimum of 2 weeks prior to May 1, 2006. Confidence testing shall occur during production use of the System between May 1, 2006 and June 15, 2006. Every route must be assigned an equipped vehicle and data collected for comparison to the actual. CHT will issue written Acceptance of the System within 15 days of establishing that the System meets all contract requirements and upon completion of the Confidence testing period.

I’ve yet to see the actual results of the functional testing, the results of evaluating the RFP’s stated criteria (including the ADA requirements) and whether we solicited bids from vendors known to use WiFi/WiMAX technologies but probably not be aware of our town’s interest in their RTIS/AVL systems.

Ellen, over on OrangePolitics, wonders if NextBus will deliver digital signs with audio alerts for “a person who is blind gets there and tries to access then and cant read it or a person who cant read but can hear and understand verbal communication”.

While the RFP mentions ADA 49CFR Part 37.167 and 49CFR Part 38.5 , both which require some kind of audio notifications, we won’t know for sure if those requirements were adhered to as part of the evaluation process until we see the results of the functional testing.

It’ll be a shame if, on top of a wasted $950,000 opportunity, the town has to kick in extra funds to be ADA compliant.


NextBus Recap – The story so far…

Monday, May 8th, 2006

[UPDATE:] The proposal.

What would it take to build our own bus ETA notification and Internet hotspot system?

Twenty-four hours into blogging about the NextBus system, what have we learned? What’s the alternative? How large of an opportunity have we missed?

What have other folk said about NextBus?

Why is the town concerned about cellphone charges? What kind of deal did we make?

Alameda California’s ACTransit signed a deal with NextBus is January, 2006. Did we get as good a deal?

May 8th I had an opportunity to speak with one of the folk from ACTransit who negotiated their great deal.

ACTransit got for their $1M:

  • NEW: 54 signs, 125 vehicles, 13 routes
  • EXISTING: 46 signs, 74 vehicles, 12 routes
  • 7 years of support for their existing and new infrastructure.

Chapel Hill?

  • 14 signs, 83 vehicles, 26 routes, unknown warrantee.

What does the Daily Tar Heel have to say?

Why NextBus? What about the strange coincidence involving NextBus’ 2002 campaign contributions to Rep. Price?


Bob Avery, the town’s IT director, came through this evening with additional documentation of the Real-Time Passenger Information System and Automatic Vehicle Location system for Chapel Hill Transit.

Catch the NextBus VII – Stone knives and bear skins…

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

A Web 2.0 nod to Spock and Kirk.

What if I endeavored “to construct a pneumonic memory circuit using stone knives and bear skins”?

To wit, could I recreate the NextBus system using “off the shelf” Web 2.0 infrastructure and cheap gear?

For a modestly discounted fee of $850,000? Yes! Yes! Yes!

My tinkertoy Web 2.0 application might resemble the MoloGoGo web service: (more…)

Catch the NextBus IV – New Hope?

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

Thank you town staff, Ms. Hall especially, for the assistance in assembling this information.

April 24th, 2006 – two days ago – after concerns were raised about the NextBus, Inc. deal – the town signed a contract with NextBus, Inc. for their proprietary system.

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.

The schedule of work starts May 1st, 2006:

  • May 1st, 2006 – Order vehicle hardware – $230,350.00
  • July 1st, 2006 – Automatic vehicle location, maps, website – $276,000
  • Aug. 1st, 2006 – Install signs – $75,000
  • Sep. 15th, 2006 – System acceptance – $367,675

This will cover 14 signs, a website with 26 routes and equipment for 83 buses.

What a terrible deal compared to the recent ACTransit’s!.

ACTransit: 100 signs, 25 routes, 199 vehicles, 7 year warrantee – $1,031,079.
Chapel Hill: 14 signs, 26 routes, 83 vehicles, unknown warrantee – $949,025.


May 8th I had an opportunity to speak with one of the folk from ACTransit who negotiated their great deal.

Turns out ACTransit got for their $1M:

  • 54 new signs, 46 existing
  • 125 new vehicles, 74 existing
  • 13 new routes, 12 existing

7 years of support for their existing and new infrastructure.

New material: 54 signs, 125 vehicles, 13 routes. Coverage for existing 46 signs, 74 vehicles and 12 routes. Chapel Hill: 14 signs, 83 vehicles, 26 routes.
What a great deal!

I’ve contacted our IT director, Bob Avery, to get the detailed specifications, the criteria used to select a vendor and the results of comparing various solutions.

General Tagge: What of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical reading of this station, it is possible, however unlikely, they might find a weakness and exploit it.

Darth Vader: The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands.

Admiral Motti: Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they have obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it.

Even without the Death Star’s plans, based on Exhibit A of the contract, the obvious, expensive problems of this system are evident.

Six of seven questions to NextBus reveal a concern about additional costs due to excessive cellular phone charges. The concern appears to center on keeping the data flow to less than 5MB (megabytes) per month.

NextBus will be reselling Cingular Service to the town to support this data flow.

As an individual, I can get unlimited Cingular data service for $60 per month (that is, I can get it where their cruddy signal can reach – imagine NextBus’ problems getting a decent signal!). I have to believe it’ll be quite a bit cheaper for NextBus.

Is this a misplaced concern from a transit system with a 2006-2007 operating fund of $13.6 million ( $5M from UNC, $2.6M from Chapel Hill)?

But that’s beside the point! Why cellular at all?

We should be using a standards-based system that supports fixed and mobile networking, is expandable using off-the-shelf components, satisfies the highspeed connectivity demands of our first-responders and, for gosh sakes, advances the town’s technology infrastructure.

Two birds – one stone or a pig in the poke?

I hope the Council can intervene before the pig comes home to roost….

Catch the NextBus III – ACTransit’s Better Deal

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District

…an innovative, modern bus system, owned by the public of the East Bay. Its family tree dates back to 1869…the year America’s two coasts were joined by the transcontinental railroad with the driving of the golden spike. In the same year, 1869, the Suez Canal opened, linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. That’s the year when AC Transit’s first predecessor began carrying passengers from the Jack London Waterfront into burgeoning Oakland in a horse-drawn rail car.

on January 18th, 2006 cut a new deal with NextBus, Inc. covering:

[ UPDATED May 8th, 2006 after speaking to ACTransit ]

  • 25 routes – 13 new, 12 existing
  • 100 signs – 54 new, 46 existing
  • 199 vehicles tracked – 125 new, 74 existing
  • 7 years of warrantee on equipment and services

Cost? $1,031,079

Authorize the General Manager to negotiate and execute a contract with NextBus, Inc., for real time bus arrival information on two BRT/Rapid lines and at two BART/AC Transit Centers, for a capital investment including a seven-year warrantee, in the amount of $1,031, 079.

Sounds like a much better deal than 14 signs, our small smaller (83) fleet, at a cost of $949,025.

There’s an interesting breakout of costs in the contract.

One item that caught my attention, $201,600 for airtime. Nearly 1/5th of the contracted cost goes to communication, an expensive element that distinguishes this proprietary technology from the standards-based, dual-use WiFi/WiMax-based alternatives.

Catch the NextBus

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

I’m curious about both the process our town went through selecting NextBus, Inc. and the “real-world” results of other communities.

I’ll be documenting more of what I find over the next couple days, including why the town’s Technology advisory board, in spite of staff knowing of our particular interest in this technology, was shut out of the decision-making process.

To start with, here’s the manager’s recommendation to purchase NextBus’s system. I haven’t found any other online materials documenting the criteria, methodology and test results of the trial comparisons.

While “googling” NextBus, I accidentally ran into this bit of data:


Date Amount Recipient
3/22/2002 $1,000 Price, David
6/5/2002 $500 Price, David
6/24/2002 $500 Price, David
6/24/2002 ($500) Price, David

Documented here, here and here.

One of the lobbyist for NextBus at the time, Charles S. Walsh of FLEISCHMAN & WALSH , also made a 9/16/2002 donation of $1,000 to Price.

[ UPDATE: ] Turns out two lobbyists from Fleischman & Walsh gave $1,000. Aaron Fleischman gave $1,000 on 06/05/2002.

Walsh, Charles S. Fleischman & Walsh LLP/Attorney 1,000 G 09/16/2002 Annapolis MD 21401
Fleischman, Aaron Fleischman and Walsh LLP/Attorney 1,000 P 06/05/2002 Washington DC 20008

NextBus only retained FLEISCHMAN & WALSH 2001-2003 in which they paid $20K in 2001, $100K in 2002 and $80K in 2003.

The only other Congressman to receive NextBus executive’s direct largesse, Tom Davis, Republican representative for Virginia’s 11th district, got $1,000 in 2002.

This is only of interest in light of the recent HeraldSun article on the NextBus purchase:

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

“This was something that Rep. David Price’s [D-4th district] office became involved in, that there were federal dollars available for transit enhancement,” Neufang said. “We’re very appreciative that Cong. Price has assisted us in this process.”

and the comment in the manager’s recommendation:

In 2003, Congressman David Price obtained for the Town an earmark grant for an Intelligent Transportation System deployment program. The funds were to be used for obtaining a Real Time Passenger Information System for Chapel Hill Transit.

While 2002 was just a year before the initial run at doing this project, it has been quite awhile ago and both Maresca and FLEISCHMAN & WALSH have long moved on.



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