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After Feb. 29, the University of Michigan will switch to using the U-M Magic Bus and halt all DoubleMap support.
According to Senior Manager of Logistics Scott Babut, the transition to U-M Magic Bus app follows the expiration of the contract with the previous supplier system. Babut said after pursuing the University of Michigan’s contracting process, Clever Devices became the new supplier, and Magic Bus was included in their system.
According to the Logistics, Transportation & Parking press release, the new app will feature stop times, a real-time map, a trip planner, the ability to create an account and tracking by text message.
Babut said creating an account in the app has helped many passengers plan their trips around campus.
“Within these accounts, the passengers have the ability to create profiles with their favorite route and stops, allowing them to receive information that’s important to them based on those routes and stops,” Babut. “We also see that it provides us the potential to communicate service changes and detours to a targeted passenger base.”
Bill McAllister, general manager of transportation at the University, noted they also chose to partner with Clever Devices because many area transit agencies in southeastern Michigan use the same technology.
“It gives us a lot of synergy with these other organizations so we can pool our resources together to troubleshoot items, and also be competitive when we ask for new features and things that we want to see from Clever Devices,” McAllister said. “We are much stronger stakeholders being together like that.”
Michael Berg, a Music, Theatre & Dance and LSA junior, said he uses the bus almost every day, and the change to U-M Magic Bus has made planning trips to and from North Campus easier.
“Overall, the new bus app is an improvement,” Berg said. “A greater proportion of blue buses overall are displayed in the new app versus the old one, which makes a big difference, because you can’t plan for new buses that you can’t see. Also, the estimated arrival times in the new systems are much more accurate than in DoubleMap.”
According to Transportation Senior Supervisor Michael Denemy, the increased visibility of buses on the map is the result of drivers logging into the Magic Bus system for their shifts.
“In the current system, it’s a several-year-old tablet on a vehicle that doesn’t necessarily update in real time,” Denemy said. “So, if it’s not communicating correctly to the server, then your vehicle isn’t going to correctly pop up on the map. In the new system, it’s all handled internally, so we shouldn’t see many instances of that anymore.”
Denemy said the Magic Bus system utilizes a prediction algorithm that considers the route, schedule database and real-time vehicle location data, helping increase the app’s accuracy.
“In the past, DoubleMap did not consider the schedule information or the historical data,” Denemy said. “Now it’s tied in there. It knows what the trips are, it knows what bus is performing that trip, so it can better predict where the vehicle is going to be, where the vehicle is intending to be. It also stores that information over the past 30 days or so. It’s a weighted average to make that even more accurate than it currently is, because it will take in real traffic patterns over the course of a month.”
Despite the perks, Berg still thinks the app has much to improve.
“The new app is still a bit clunky,” Berg said. “It doesn’t open directly to the live map, which I think for students, that’s the feature they use most. It’s not terribly responsive, and the bus positions don’t update terribly frequently, which makes it hard to tell if you’re viewing buses live or viewing buses that were there when you closed it hours ago.”
LSA freshman Rachel Himmel downloaded the app so she could familiarize herself with it before the official transition.
“I’ve definitely noticed some problems with it,” Himmel said. “Sometimes, I’ll check it whenever (the bus is) 12 minutes out. When I check it again five minutes later, and whenever I try to do it and load the exact same thing I had previously done, it will tell me that there’s an error and that they’re experiencing technical difficulties right now.”
Babut said when the U-M Magic Bus app was first released, many of the users’ difficulties were caused by planned system outages. Babut said he values the community input on the app.
“We do welcome feedback and acknowledge that all apps are different, and we continue to listen to feedback,” Babut said. “It seems like the most consistent feedback we’re hearing is improving the rate that the bus refreshes on the app to provide a more fluid experience. We’ve heard that, and we’ve recognized that feedback, and we’re working with the supplier to improve that frequency.”
Reporter Francesca Duong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.