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STL unveils new online tool for safe distancing in the COVID-19 era

Transit authority used existing data to create new crowd tracking system

Beginning last week, the Société de transport de Laval (STL) started making available on its website a new tool that will help tell users how crowded a bus is before they go and take it, thus minimizing possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Another STL first

According to the STL, what makes this innovative new technology so unique is that it provides an estimate of the number of passengers to be expected not only when they board, but also during the course of an entire bus trip – making it a first in Canada, claims the STL.

“Since the project was already in the pipeline, we decided to push up the launch to make it available to users as soon as possible,” STL president Éric Morasse said during an online launch held last week. “Which is why this is a beta release for now, and the STL is asking everyone for their feedback, comments, and suggested improvements that we will integrate as we move forward.

Making informed decisions

In this screenshot from last week’s online presentation by the STL on their new crowd tracking system, the emplacements of sensors above front and rear bus doors is shown.

“We believe in the role public transit plays in supporting the reopening of the economy,” Morasse added. “But we also know it is no longer always possible to social distance on buses. Together with continuing to insist on the importance of wearing a mask, this new tool will enable Laval residents to make fully informed decisions about their bus commutes.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made social distancing in public transit situations a core concern for users. As such, this new tool, says the STL, will enable transit users to make informed decisions depending on bus crowdedness, as well as on the comfort level of users.

Post-COVID transit use growing

“It’s clear that with deconfinement along with the startup of the economy, in buses it is often impossible, and will be even more so, to maintain physical distancing rules given that transit use is growing every week for the past month by 10 per cent a week,” said Pierre Lavigueur, head of innovation and development at the STL.

“So we are really seeing an increase in transit use and regular activity returning to normal, although this is not happening without people’s concerns growing.” According to Lavigueur, the STL’s researchers and developers saw they had large quantities of data that were being gathered for several years by equipment that was already installed on buses, and this presented the perfect opportunity to use it constructively, he said.

‘Since the project was already in the pipeline, we decided to push up the launch to make it available to users as soon as possible,’ said STL president Éric Morasse

How it works

STL vehicles have been equipped with GPS technology and passenger counters for years. Each day, they record occupancy levels at each bus stop, for each bus route, at each scheduled bus time. The data is then used to calculate an estimate of how many passengers are on the bus at a specified stop, at a specific time, based on the average trending during the five previous days.

The calculations are updated daily. For now, says the STL, estimates will be available for weekday bus service only. The current release is a beta version, which will be improved continually based on user experiences and comments. It is available at stlaval.ca/passengers, for computers and smartphones.

Using the new tool online in four steps:

To find out the expected bus crowdedness on the web site, simply select:

Bus route and direction;

Your starting bus stop;

Your destination bus stop;

Your departure time.

Thus, based on the commute you’ve selected in steps 1-2-3, the tool posts the maximum number of passengers you should expect on the bus for all of your day’s trips.

Different ways to see the numbers

Shown on a color gradient ranging from light (low occupancy) to dark (more crowded), you get a map of bus stops with an estimate of how many passengers will be on the bus along each stop of the selected commute, as well as a timeline of the estimated number of passengers on the bus along each stop; the number of minutes and percent of trip spent with X passengers (pie chart); a detailed list of bus stops, scheduled bus times and expected bus crowdedness.

STL COVID-19 survey

In May, the STL rolled out a survey process intended to periodically take the pulse of its users. There have so far been two surveys: May and June, with one To Be Determined. May’s findings show that 64 per cent of respondents are worried about resuming using public transit, and that for 49 per cent of respondents the main worry is social distancing on buses. For a complete rundown of COVID-19 measures in place, visit bit.ly/STL-COVID19.

Martin C. Barry
Martin C. Barryhttp://www.lavalnews.ca
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for the Laval News. During his 23 years of covering political and community issues in the Montreal region, Marty has won numerous journalism awards from the Quebec Community Newspapers Association for written coverage as well as for photography. marty@newsfirst.ca

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