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Fort Worth bus and train riders can get route information via smartphone

Fort Worth bus and train riders can now get precise information about public transportation with a few keystrokes on their computer or smartphone.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority is sharing its route data with Google Maps. Riders can find out when the next bus or train will arrive by going to maps.google.com -- or, on a smartphone, by selecting Google's map application. They then select "get directions" and "by public transit" and enter the start and end points of their trip.

"Our customers wanted faster access to information," said Curvie Hawkins, T planning director. "This is reducing one of the barriers to people taking public transportation."

For agencies such as the T that aren't expected to have the funding to expand bus or train routes for the next few years, a relatively small investment in technology is a good way to increase ridership, officials said. Prospective riders are more likely to take transit if they understand the schedules and can access information even in unfamiliar areas.

"Sometimes they will take a car on a journey because they are concerned about that last mile," Norman Baker, British parliamentary undersecretary of state for transport, said this month at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany.

Plugged in

Tech-savvy transit riders can now travel throughout the Metroplex guided by online search functions. Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Denton County Transportation Authority also provide route data to Google.

T officials have been testing the Google information for many weeks and have found it to be accurate, Hawkins said. He added that he even had it plan a trip from Fort Worth to Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington and was satisfied with the response.

Arlington is one of the largest cities in the U.S. without full-fledged public transportation. The Google app instructed Hawkins to take the Trinity Railway Express from downtown Fort Worth to CentrePort, near Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, and then a taxi to Six Flags.

It's not an efficient way to get to the roller coasters, but it's reliable.

T officials said they're surveying riders to determine how many have smartphones. They suspect that it's a high percentage that will continue to grow as the technology becomes more affordable. The T began upgrading its software in 2010 as part of its effort to use technology better.

NextBus

For now, Google Maps users are getting only the T's scheduled bus and train service, so they could miss their ride if it arrives or departs a few minutes earlier or later than scheduled. However, the agency is also working on NextBus, a program that is eventually expected to provide real-time information about bus and train locations.

NextBus would use GPS to display a map of bus locations on computers and smartphones. It would show each scheduled stop and predict down to the minute when the bus should arrive.

The T expects to roll out NextBus this summer for its busiest corridor, the Spur route along East Lancaster Avenue. It will eventually expand NextBus to other routes. A beta version of NextBus can be seen at www.the-t.com.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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