The University of Iowa

Annual Report 2010-2011

Out Front logo--The University of Iowa
smartphone showing BONGO app

You can’t beat BONGO

New service helps bus riders get real-time route information via mobile devices

Iowa City, Coralville, and the University of Iowa Cambus transit departments launched an information system called Bus on the Go (or BONGO for short) that provides bus riders with real-time route and vehicle information via a smart phone, text message, website, or telephone.

BONGO uses a GPS transmitter on each bus to send a signal every 10 seconds that updates the latitude and longitude of the vehicle along its route. That information is relayed in real time to an online map that displays the predicted arrival times for every stop, each of which is assigned a unique number. Stop numbers can be found at www.ebongo.org and are posted on signs at each stop.

Riders can check bus locations and expected arrival times several ways:

  • Using a handheld smart device (such as iPhone, Blackberry, Droid, or Pre) or computer to visit www.ebongo.org. Additionally, users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR code on a bus stop sign to load up the bus stop web page on the phone's browser.
  • Texting ‘nbus bongo’ with the bus stop number to 41411. There is also an option to receive a text message when the bus is approaching a user's stop—with a lead time chosen by the rider (1 minute, 3 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.)
  • Calling 319-471-4155. Riders can call in, enter their stop number, and receive information regarding the anticipated arrival time of their bus.

The passenger information system is designed to make transit riding more efficient, improve passenger safety, and boost the convenience of area public transit services by relaying predicted bus arrival times. For instance, users can minimize the amount of time they spend outside in cold, rain, and snow, or in locations that are not well lighted or very visible. Wireless Internet access is also available on all buses.

By partnering on BONGO, Iowa City, Coralville, and the UI are making the most of limited fiscal resources while improving the experience of using public transportation, an important goal given that about 6 million unique rides are made annually in the Iowa City and Coralville area—more than anywhere else in Iowa.

"The top reason people don’t use public transit is lack of information," says Romy Bolton, project leader in the Campus Technology Services department at UI Information Technology Services. "We believe this system will make it easier for people to use public transportation and ultimately reduce the number of cars on the road."

More than just a passenger convenience, the BONGO system allows area transit management and bus dispatchers to track and monitor their vehicles and operators to optimize transit schedules and streamline service. Data from automatic passenger counters will be used to evaluate current routes and stops. And engine diagnostics will provide transit management with real-time information on engine variables to identify maintenance issues before they become serious.

Transit officials also hope the system will improve customer service and reduce the number of passengers asking for bus locations and arrival times.

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