Metro Transit has upgraded its NexTrip system with software that's designed to provide real-time schedule information to riders with a higher degree of accuracy.

The new software went live last week and is the first major upgrade to the system in about a decade, said Laura Matson, Metro Transit's program manager of real-time customer information.

"It's important to the customers," Matson said. "It's frustrating when it doesn't work and we are trying to improve the experience of using transit. We respect their time."

NexTrip now also includes arrival and departure times for buses operated by SouthWest Transit, Maple Grove Transit and Plymouth Metrolink.

Millions access NexTrip annually to find out when their bus or train is supposed to arrive, but until now the system has been accurate only 65 to 70% of the time. With this upgrade, NexTrip should have a batting average of 80% or better, Matson said.

NexTrip previously relied on a bus' GPS unit to determine its location and predict how long it would take to reach the next time point. Information was updated every eight seconds.

But the system was unable to factor in variables such as weather, traffic jams or how much time a bus spends picking up and dropping off passengers, all of which influence trip times.

The new software, developed by Cambridge Systematics Inc., is smarter, Matson said. It has more input points and can draw on historical data to recognize how long it has taken previous buses on a route to pass specific checkpoints, and then incorporate that data to make predictions.

NexTrip pushes information to a variety of platforms, including real-time signs at bus stops, Metro Transit's website, and its automated phone system and texting feature. The information is also supplied to the third-party Transit app. With the upgrade, NexTrip data also will be available soon on Apple and Google maps.

Another enhancement provides riders with information about stop closures and trip cancellations, services not available before on NexTrip.

Metro Transit has a four-year, $972,000 contract with Massachusetts-based Cambridge Systematics, and more improvements may be coming. Matson said Metro Transit is looking to see how it can give riders information about how crowded a bus is, an important issue since the agency is trying to limit capacity on buses during the pandemic.

"We continue to explore more inputs and see how we can improve the customer experience," Matson said.

Electric buses back on C Line

Electric buses are rolling again on the $37 million C Line, the rapid bus route linking downtown Minneapolis to Brooklyn Center via Olson Hwy. and Penn Avenue.

The agency took eight buses off the line last fall when there were issues with chargers at the Brooklyn Center Transit Center (BCTC). The electric buses were among the first deployed by Metro Transit.

The 60-foot buses get a full charge when they're parked at the Heywood Garage overnight. Chargers at the BCTC provide a boost to ensure buses make it through the day.

The chargers needed to be retooled, and that work has been completed by the manufacturer, New Flyer of America. Metro Transit spokeswoman Laura Baenen said the repairs were covered by a warranty with New Flyer.

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