Gridlock Guy: New app helps mass-transit riders keep on schedule

I have written many times in this column about a number of smart phone apps that Atlanta commuters can use to help make their travels easier. The WSB-TV Traffic app, Google Maps, Waze, Uber and Lyft are all widely used in the city and all have plenty of loyal users and ardent fans.

I recently learned of an app that can also help transit users, specifically college students that ride buses. It’s called TransLoc and it is being used at 140 entities around the country and for many institutions right here in Atlanta.

It’s close to Uber for buses. The app lets users know when their bus will arrive and how long it will take to get to the next stop or their final destination.

“TransLoc is a technology provider for transit,” said Josh Cohen, director of Strategy and Partnerships at TransLoc. “We have been providing real-time passenger information for transit agencies for the last 10 years, including many in Atlanta, to help riders know when their bus is coming on their mobile phones or on the web. To reduce some of the barriers for people to use transit.”

TransLoc started simply enough.

“Our founders were waiting for the bus (at North Carolina State University) that never came,” Cohen said. “After an hour of waiting they found out it was because it was Labor Day and the bus wasn’t running that day. They said there has to be a better way to do this. They set about solving that problem.”

Since those humble beginnings, the company has grown.

“As we’ve grown we’ve really focused on what can we do to help achieve what transit’s goal is,” Cohen said. “Our mission as a company is to take public transit from the last resort for some, to the first choice to all. So if we are going to do that, we have to make transit pretty darn attractive.”

The app has been active at Emory University since 2007 and user ship is growing. Last month 15,000 unique users visited the app or website over 239,000 times.

In addition to Emory, TransLoc has partnerships with Life University, Kennesaw State University, Savannah College of Art and Design (Atlanta campus), The Woodruff Library, Atlantic Station and several corporate customers that have their own shuttles.

“It reduces that uncertainty on whether the bus can actually get them to where they need to be,” Cohen said. “Whether that is showing where the bus is, giving them an arrival time, giving them an alarm to tell them when the bus is five minutes away, to communicate important announcements like the buses aren’t running because it’s Labor Day.”

Peace of mind is the goal.

“Reducing that anxiety, especially for someone who uses the buses on a regular basis is just a huge psychological burden relieved,” Cohen said. “Letting people know when the bus is coming makes it easier to choose that option.”

Those who have the app use it quite a bit. Eighty-three percent of the people who have TransLoc use it daily. Seventy-nine percent use it twice daily.

I downloaded the app (it is free to users) and found it very interesting. I was able to see in real time where the Atlantic Station shuttles were and how long they would take to reach me.

Cohen sees this as another step in a transportation, transformation.

“If you think about the next 25 years in transportation, you have Uber, Lyft, electric cars, driver-less cars, drones, hyper-loop — you have a lot of really fascinating stuff,” Cohen. “Transportation is so central to our community, to our jobs to what makes us who we are. I think these next 25 years in transportation are just going to be a really unique times in our lives.”