The News tested the system by calling at 12:13 a.m. Thursday morning to request a ride between Davenport and Timothy Dwight Colleges. The News provided a reporter’s NetID in order to enable the service to contact the reporter when a shuttle arrived. By 1 a.m., there had been no call and no shuttle. The News called back and was again prompted for a NetID. The operator said the system registered a no-show. The operator then double-checked the phone number and ordered another shuttle.
“Come on computer,” the operator grumbled. He explained the new network worked well, but sometimes his workstation “takes forever and a month,” he said. “I think it forgot to take its vitamins this morning.”
When the operator requested another shuttle, the network automatically detected the nearest vehicle and directed the driver to the pick-up point. The network factors in street speeds and distances to calculate the arrival time. It is programmed to automatically call when the bus is four minutes away. The operator said it would arrive in three and a half minutes; the system called immediately after the call ended. A computerized voice said shuttle 81 would arrive momentarily. Director of Support Services Don Relihan said the system includes the bus number because sometimes multiple buses might pass the same point, but the rider should only take the one he or she ordered. There are between six and 12 shuttles in service, depending on how busy a given night is. Indeed, shuttle 86 passed this reporter before shuttle 81 arrived.
Shuttle 81 arrived after 10 minutes at 1:15. The driver tapped a monitor suspended from the ceiling to register the pick-up. Every bus is now outfitted with a monitor and a GPS unit. When the passenger disembarked at TD at 1:17, the driver tapped the monitor again, registering the drop-off and prompting the computer to calculate the time to the next passenger’s stop.
At 1:28, the News called again to request a return trip. The automated call came at 1:53, and shuttle 84 rolled down Temple Street at 1:58. The driver asked about the lag between the call and his arrival.
“If I’m a minute or two away, that’s what I like to hear,” he said. “It means I’m getting used to the computer.”