Unitrans in the dark about new sign

As those who take the A line may have noticed, the Unitrans sign at the bus stop by Amtrak has been updated. The new LED sign is part of Unitrans’ plan to get faster, up-to-date information for bus riders.

In 2009, Unitrans was able to get real-time information to its riders through NextBus. This system notifies riders of what time the bus is expected at their stop through the phone or online. With this information at the rider’s fingertips, Unitrans remains in doubt of whether this sign is needed.

“We haven’t had a lot of positive feedback,” said Anthony Palmere, assistant general manager of Unitrans. “No one at the MU is excited about it.”

There have not been any comments heard from riders on the feedback link on the Unitrans website either, Palmere said.

The LED sign is one of seven that Unitrans bought from Sacramento Regional Transit (RT). The signs were bought second-hand for $1,500 each.

“RT was upgrading to a different sign technology, so it was relatively cheap to pick those up,” Palmere said.

Each sign costs approximately $1,000 to install. Installation at the bus shelters includes putting up a power source. None of the signs are outfitted for self-sustaining power, such as a solar panel. Except for the bus stop at the Amtrak station, all other stops around Davis will need to install power sources.

“It costs a fair amount to bring power to shelters,” Palmere said. “But at this particular shelter, it wasn’t very costly because there was already a power source in place.”

There is also an $85 monthly charge for wireless, to keep the sign information updated.

The cost of the sign is primarily funded by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The money from the FTA is proportioned by the city, which then funnels the money to UC Davis.

The FTA grant pays for 80 percent of Unitrans’ enrollment in the NextBus system. Twenty percent comes from ASUCD.

A large portion of ASUCD funds is used to maintain Unitrans. About $4.5 million of the ASUCD budget has been reserved for Unitrans for the past few years. Unitrans is the most expensive of the 20 units and services that ASUCD finances, requiring four times the amount to run the ASUCD Coffee House.

With such a large portion of student money financing the bus system, Unitrans has been working to find efficient ways to run the system.

“We expect to go forward on thise LED signs,” Palmere said. “We also are thinking of putting up bigger signs with LCD screens at the main terminals, which would show more information [than the LED signs].”

Additionally, Unitrans will continue providing information through third party applications. Aside from calling or texting, riders may also track their bus by installing iPhone applications through Davistrans, Mapiz, or UCD Mobile.

“I think those third party applications are more personalized for people to get the bus routes and automatic notifications,” Palmere said. “They’re a good way for people to get their information more efficiently.”

As for the sign at Amtrak, it is an efficient way to give information to those coming from the station that may not be familiar with our system, Palmere said.

Unitrans is waiting for more feedback before deciding to install other LED signs in the city.

SARAHNI PECSON can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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