Just in time for this weekend’s frigid single-digit temperatures, Yale’s transit services have introduced a new nighttime dispatch system that aims to spare riders from having to wait outside.
The expensive new system, rounding out its first week in service, uses a sophisticated network that matches riders to buses with greater precision. Callers are asked for their NetIDs and their destinations; GPS technology then automatically finds and dispatches the nearest shuttle, and the system robotically calls riders’ cell phones when the bus is approaching.
“We don’t want you outside in the cold and dark,” said Director of Support Services Don Relihan, who is in charge of transportation.
Asked about the cost of the new system, Relihan said he could not say because it was “a lot of money.”
“The administration realized that this was an important ingredient in the safety and transportation of all faculty, staff and students, so we were given the resources to provide it,” he said.
But at the same time, other planned transit initiatives had to be shelved because of the University’s budget shortfall. Relihan said he had hoped to expand service hours and coverage, but doing so was deemed too expensive.
For now, daytime routes will run as they have before, but Relihan said his department will study ways to streamline the bus service.
“We need to revisit all routes to see if we can’t come up with more efficient and effective routes given the budget situation,” Relihan said. “We’re not going to diminish service, but we’ll take another look at what we might do differently down the road.”
The improved nighttime tracking system supplements the pre-existing GPS tracing of daytime shuttles on their regular routes, which is available at yale.transloc.com and has been operational for about a year and a half.
Continuing to upgrade Yale’s transit network is a priority in order to accompany the growth of Yale’s campus, especially with the two new residential colleges and the West Campus, Provost Peter Salovey said in an interview last semester.
Statistics are not yet available on use of the system because it has only run for eight nights, and even fewer with undergraduates back on campus. But generally, the nighttime dispatch center averages 800 calls a night, with the heaviest traffic between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. and on Thursday through Saturday. On a cold night like tonight, Relihan said, the call volume could well exceed 1,000.
Students interviewed called the system a welcome improvement. A test of the service conducted by the News early Thursday morning found that users may have to call buses more than once before pick-up. Relihan said his department is still tweaking the infant system, which he said had some “hiccups off the bat.”
Sarah Toomey ’11, who said she has used the new system three times, said it helped her meet the bus on time.
“They call you because you don’t want to wait outside in the cold, which is why you miss the bus,” she said.
The system has been tested multiple times since late last summer, Relihan said, but Yale wanted some features re-customized. Now that the University is satisfied with the specifications, the system is here to stay, although its accuracy and consistency continues to evolve every night, he said.