By SHANNON WATKINS
Need to schedule a seamless trip by local area transit from Pulaski to Radford to Blacksburg? There’s an app for that – and it might already be on your phone.
RIDE Solutions, partnering with Pulaski Area Transit, Radford Area Transit and Blacksburg Transit, now provides up to date routing and scheduling information for these areas, in addition to Smartway routes serving Blacksburg, Roanoke and Lynchburg. Route information is also available from RIDE Solutions for the Roanoke Valley and Alleghany Highlands. In Roanoke, this covers Valley Metro, the Smart Way Bus, the Smart Way Connector, the Star Line Trolley, the Mountain Express, and the shuttles for Ferrum and Hollins universities, as well as for Roanoke College.
The service is available to smartphone users via the Google Maps app, as well as through the Google Maps web browser. Additionally, users can go to RIDE Solutions’ webpage, www.ridesolutions.org, and use the Google Transit tool located on the main page. Users simply need to type in their departure and destination by either street address, cross streets or major landmarks along with the trip date and desired arrival or departure times for same day service or many weeks in advance, click on the bus icon, and information for several route options appears. Each option will include directions to and from the nearest bus stop, applicable route numbers including any transfer information, and total travel times for each trip option.
Addresses don’t necessarily need to be exact, either, says RIDE Solutions Coordinator of Sustainability Jeremy Holmes, if the name of the destination can be found online. “As long as Google knows what it is, and Google knows almost everything, it should work,” said Holmes.
The system’s benefit is that it links up route info for separate areas. “We’re excited about the expansion of the Google Transit service throughout the region,” says Kevin Byrd, Executive Director of the New River Valley Planning District Commission. “Not only does the tool support all the major transit services in our region, it allows you to plan a single trip across all of them. Now, you take a single bus trip from Radford, to Roanoke, to Lynchburg, all with the assistance of Google Maps.”
Getting the service up and running was mostly a matter of coordinating the data about routes and creating a feed of it for Google to pick up, said Holmes, along with an agreement to keep the information updated. He said that the effort to gather route data first began with the Roanoke area in November 2011, and went live in December of 2012. After a year, the service expanded to include Pulaski and Radford.
“We hope that this makes choice riders more comfortable with riding the bus,” said Holmes. “This makes a first step in expanding routes. We’re proud that we offer information for the Pulaski, Radford and Blacksburg areas. Trip planning via Google Maps will allow us to reach out to new customers and provide them with an alternative to driving by overcoming the biggest fear about riding the bus: the fear of missing it. Through Google Maps, we can now tell you your exact bus number, arrival time, transfer and rate information, everything you need to know.”
Holmes wants the new tool to become a way for travelers to become acclimated to the transit system and hopefully use it more often. “It helps them understand how they can travel around their region,” he said. “It’s another step in helping people understand their routes and become advocates for expanded transit.”