Gretna — Jefferson Parish bus riders will soon be able to access real-time news about bus schedules and performance that should make their commutes easier, thanks to a federal grant recently received by the Jefferson Transit Administration.
Transit Director Ryan Brown said the agency will soon seek proposals from companies interested in making about $400,000 in technology upgrades to buses, terminals and, possibly, bus stops. No exact timetable has been set for soliciting those proposals, but Brown said the agency should seek input from both local and national firms within months.
The goal of the program is to provide riders with instant information on bus location, arrival times and departure times. Brown said the program was a key objective of Parish President John Young. Jefferson Transit is paying for the changes with a livability grant from the Federal Transit Administration that is designed to modernize transit service. Brown said the federal government will provide $320,000, and JET will supply $80,000 for the project.
“We’re very excited about this,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of tech out there for this, and we’re trying to make sure we get the best for our dollars.”
Brown said JET would like to have displays on buses that show estimated arrival and departure times to riders and also have boards at the agency’s terminals in Walkertown and near Gretna. He even suggested the possibility of barcodes on bus stop signs that could be scanned with smartphones to get a bus’s current location.
Rachel Heiligman, the executive director of the transit advocacy group RIDE, said that real-timer information would make commuting easier for Jefferson Parish residents. Buses in Jefferson Parish and New Orleans are notorious for not running on schedule, Heiligman said, and with the new technology, riders can get a better idea of how they will be affected by that reality. She said the Regional Transit Authority already provides real-time updates at selected stops and online, but the key is making the data available to third parties. That way, independent developers can create applications for smartphones using that data, like one called NOLA Transit.
“We think that real time data is pretty critical,” Heiligman said.
In addition to the livability grant, JET is hoping to renew two other grants that pay for improved service on the West Bank, and provide a crucial bus route to East Jefferson Hospital and the Elmwood Shopping Center. Brown said the parish hopes to be approved for about $565,000 in grants that will keep expanded service on its W1, W3, W10 and E3 lines. Those grants also would fund the E8 line.
The parish was able to expand service on the West Bank in 2008, and add the Clearview to Elmwood route because of those grants. Brown said those routes serve a large number of elderly and low income residents, and provide crucial access to East Jefferson Hospital and the parish’s administrative offices. The grants are extremely competitive, but Brown thinks the parish has a good shot of getting them renewed.
“You have to be a little creative,” Brown said, adding that those applications will be submitted within the next few months. “The whole thing is fighting for that money so we don’t have to cut service.”