MTD to test GPS service

By Nick Zombolas

There may soon be a time when students will always know where they are while riding a Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District bus.

According to Tom Costello, assistant director for the MTD, the company is currently testing a global positioning satellite (GPS) system that will display the current location and upcoming stops on a panel in front of the buses.

“The system works with a combination of GPS and how many miles the bus travels,” he said.

A GPS system works with a group of orbiting satellites.

Each satellite contains an atomic clock and the antennae send signals to ground stations which synchronize all the clocks, according to Stephen Hurst, an academic staff member in the geology department.

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“These weak signals are in the microwave range,” he said. “The signals are not typically affected by weather such as rain and snow.”

The GPS system used by the MTD is similar to the system utilized by the military.

“For accuracy, a differential system verifies all the GPS data,” said Karl Gnadt, director of market development for the MTD.

The satellite system knows where the bus is supposed to be based on the routes and geography of the campus. The system will also be able to detect if there is a system error or if the bus is off route or delayed.

“We plan to have signs at transit plazas with ‘next bus due’ information,” Costello said.

According to Gnadt, the signs will show either the amount of time until the next bus arrives or the time of the next departure from the stop.

“Currently, we’re still verifying the data that is in the database,” Gnadt said. “We also need to verify all the results we receive. It is a huge database.”

The size of the database is the result of the changing schedules for weekday, weekend, evening, campus and community routes.

“The database also includes every stop, bus and route in our system,” he said.

Currently, the MTD is still fixing rising errors in the system and no date has been set for when the system will be ready.

Although Caitlin Ash, freshman in LAS, said she doesn’t take buses much, she thinks the GPS system will be beneficial for students like her who haven’t yet found their way around campus.

“(The system) will help,” she said. “I always have to ask people where I am and where I need to get off.”

Gnadt said if the system gives bad information, the MTD will not utilize it.

“We want to make absolutely sure the system is working,” he said.

All in all, the system still requires work.

“We have a ways to go,” Costello said.