Rocky start for CATS GPS

More than a month after the Capital Area Transit System launched its much-heralded GPS software, reviews so far are mixed, with some bus riders complaining the system is inaccurate and not user-friendly.

CATS rolled out the new website and smartphone app provided by RouteMatch Software at the end of January. It is supposed to show riders in real time when a bus will arrive at their stop.

Management has said the technology will dramatically improve the rider’s experience, and stressed that its implementation is proof the agency is delivering on its promises from the April property tax election.

“Just like any other new technology project, there are some bugs in the system and we are working to iron out all those issues,” said Kiran Vemuri, CATS planning manager who oversees the GPS project. “We are actively gathering all the feedback and allocating more resources to make this system accurate as it serves as the foundation for the future passenger information technologies.”

RouteMatch declined to comment on criticism of the app, deferring to CATS management.

The $1.4 million contract with Route Match, in addition to GPS tracking, includes digital passenger counters and automated speakers that announce approaching destinations on the buses. The contract is covered by federal stimulus dollars, but CATS will pay about $15,000 a year in operational costs, Vemuri has said.

Computer engineer and Baton Rouge native Logan Leger rode his first CATS bus March 1, using the new RouteShout smart phone app to guide his travels from the corner of Highland Road and Raphael Semmes Road to a Walgreens on Jefferson Highway.

Leger is the chief executive officer of NewAperio, a Baton Rouge start up that specializes in mobile app development. He evaluated the app on three different versions of an iPhone and one Android phone.

“I think the fact that the CATS app exists is a positive,” Leger said.

But the positives for him ended there.

Leger said that, as a new rider, he’d hoped the app would have provided instructions on what buses and transfers he would need to take to get to his desired location.

Instead, he said, he had to navigate through several pages on the app to figure it out for himself.

“It was all very confusing. The navigation was not very effective,” he said. “I had to tap through like 10 pages, it should require two at the most.”

Worse, he said, the times listed on his smart phone for bus arrivals were wrong. For example, he said, it was off by at least 15 minutes for one stop on the Jefferson Highway route he traveled.

“If I had been waiting for the bus at Jefferson and watching the app, I would have missed the bus,” he said.

CEO Brian Marshall said at the software’s launch that it would be accurate up to 15 seconds.

Leger, supported the CATS tax in April, and is representative of the kind of “choice rider” that CATS officials have said they hope to attract with their service improvements.

He said he owns a car but would like the option of having an efficient, reliable public transit system.

But Leger also said during his ride that he would have had more luck using a map.

“The app overall is just unusable,” he said. “It would have been more beneficial for me to have a pamphlet and print out of the routes because it would have been easier to figure out than the app.”

Others, though, said they are pleased with the new app.

Jessica Cole, a 24 year-old smartphone user who frequently rides CATS buses, said she hasn’t experienced any problems with the app.

“It helps because I actually know where the bus is that I’m catching,” she said, before hopping on a bus Friday. “It’s been totally accurate.”

Vemuri said CATS has received feedback from riders that the app is not as user friendly as it needs to be and said they are working with RouteMatch to address the problem.

“Usually it will take three months to stabilize this kind of system, according to transit industry standards, but our goal is to make this system fully functional by April,” Vemuri said.

Vemuri also said that once the system is “error free” staff plans to add a trip planner that would show new riders like Leger the routes and transfers to get to their desired location. He said that feature is expected to roll out by September.

Cyndy Forman, who has been riding the bus daily since October, said she also finds the app to be inaccurate and has missed the bus because she relied on its timing.

“It’s not accurate at all,” Forman said. “I left my house for the bus stop when it said 10 minutes, and when I got there a few minutes later it jumped to 46 minutes.”

She said the app doesn’t appear to be delivering real time updates, as initially advertised by CATS staff.

But she said since its implementation, the buses are more frequently running on time.

Marshall said when the service was unveiled that the GPS would improve scheduling because now dispatchers can oversee where all the buses are and can dispatch other buses if needed to keep routes on schedule.

Stacy Sholes, another CATS rider, said he thought the technology was a waste of money because many riders don’t use smart phones.

“I feel like all the funds should be used toward improving the bus rides,” Sholes said. “Most of us are on a fixed income and can’t afford smart phones.”