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Blacksburg Transit Installs Beacons to Boost Ridership, Adjust Service

More than 12,000 riders use the beacon-enabled app to direct them to the correct bus stop; the agency employs the system to collect ridership data and modify bus dispatching accordingly.
By Claire Swedberg

The GeLo beacons are designed to be rugged and waterproof, which should enable them to sustain the weather. Witten says he selected the GeLo beacons for the system because they are rugged, and require only a AAA battery that can easily be replaced—he plans to do so every year initially, though typically, the batteries can last for about two years, according to Al Juarez, GeLo's sales VP.

BT plans to further evaluate the data from the system to better identify bus location. This spring, the app had been installed on approximately 9,740 iOS devices and 3,000 Android devices. The community has a population of about 45,000, Witten says, so this number of app users should provide sufficient ridership data to be very useful. In fact, he estimates that having only about 10 percent of the riders using the app would still generate enough information to be of use regarding when buses or stops become crowded.

Blacksburg Transit installed GeLo beacons in the signposts for all 50 of its bus stops.
BT is also evaluating how Wi-Fi access points with built-in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radios could collect data about buses parked in the 94,000-square-foot garage. Without any automated location data, Witten says, BT's workers often need to walk around to locate a bus and verify that it is in the garage. With the beacons already installed on the bus transmitting to BLE radios in the Wi-Fi access points, he notes, that information could be collected automatically.

"My first goal is to know if buses are in the garage," Witten says. This could be accomplished via a few of the BLE-enabled Wi-Fi access points. By installing even more BLE-enabled Wi-Fi access points and programming the software to estimate a location based on that data, he also hopes to identify where in the garage the bus is parked. BT is now testing BLE-enabled Wi-Fi access points from several vendors.

In the future, BT may also look into using the beacon-based ridership data to better understand how effective marketing campaigns are.

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