Tracking the next stop: Edmond company donates program to temper impatient streetcar passengers
By: Brian Brus
The city’s new downtown streetcar will track a lot closer to riders’ expectations of timed stops thanks to a gift of computer coding from an Edmond company.
U.S. Fleet Tracking is donating a program that provides live GPS data for the MAPS 3 streetcar system, which is scheduled to launch Dec. 14. Company owner Jerry Hunter said that when friends tease him about using global positioning system technology for vehicles that never leave their rails, he points out the popularity of NASCAR races. Even on a simple oval, split-second finishes matter, he said.
“Most people hate to wait, and most trolley systems are grossly inaccurate, promising a minute or two when it actually takes five,” Hunter said. “We can track the streetcar down to the seconds before it makes the next stop.”
The streetcar has been running several tests to ensure it’s ready for passengers this month. Nine years ago, city residents voted in support of the MAPS 3 penny sales tax and earmarked $131 million of the $777 million in projected revenue for a streetcar loop through downtown. The 5.1-mile route runs south to SW Third Street, north to Midtown at NW 11th, west as far as Dewey Avenue, and east through Bricktown to Russell M. Perry Avenue. In September, officials asked for at least $2 million more to finalize track installation, provide contingency funds and install a traffic signal-syncing network.
However, there will be delays that can’t be entirely predicted while people wait at the streetcar’s 22 boarding platforms, Hunter said. That’s where his company enters the picture. U.S. Fleet Tracking sells customized GPS devices and software that makes them work, viewable on the Internet. U.S. Fleet Tracking times will be posted at each stop. The purpose of the streetcar speaks to the nature of Hunter’s company.
“It just makes sense with what the city is doing,” he said. “If you look at the long-term growth plan over the next 10 or 20 years, with the increase of housing, street redesigns, green areas and overall growth, parking will be a challenge. This will allow people to park somewhere else in the city and get a short ride to their destination.”
“I’m very pro-Oklahoma City, and it just seemed that we should support this project and the local community,” he said.
Hunter stressed that he never asked to be paid when he started working on it six months ago, so the city’s in-kind publicity of his company as a partner or sponsor is greatly appreciated.
As for the GPS program’s continuing value to U.S. Fleet Tracking, Hunter said he might farm it around other cities to see if anyone else is interested in improving their mass transit schedules. The biggest problem he foresees is that the work done so far is idiosyncratic to Oklahoma City’s streetcar.