Profs track TTC’s moves from space

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By Kurt Ingram

After waking up early for school, the last thing students want to do is stand at a cold, snowy street corner and stare incessantly down the road for a TTC bus or streetcar that never seems to arrive soon enough.

That may be a thing of he past if the pioneering research of four Ryerson professors takes off.

Amer Shalaby and Ahmed El-Rabbany of the university’s civil engineering department, along with Saeed Zolfaghari and Mohamed Jaber of industrial engineering, are creating a program that would eventually allow TTC riders to view the location of a bus on a Web site.

Riders will be able to time their walks to the bus stop perfectly.

The researchers are using truly space-age technology to track the TTC vehicles. Satellites will track Global Positioning System transponders hooked up to two TTC buses (the routes haven’t been decided yet). Their locations will then be mapped on the ground using computer software.

The GPS project will replace the current TTC tracking system, which uses radio transceivers aboard buses to interact with roadside transmitters.

Shalaby said this technology is outdated and signals are often disrupted by interference.

“GPS technology has already been implemented in Europe and Japan,” Shalaby said. “It is known as ITS—intelligent transportation system.”

Besides giving the TTC riders more reliable service, the project aims to give the TTC information it needs to develop more efficient schedules.

The professors began testing the GPS system last March, and they estimate all TTC buses could be GPS-equipped in three years.

“Whenever you are investigating the unknown, there are going to be unforeseen hurdles to overcome,” Shalaby said.

The funding for the project comes from a $150,000 grant from Geomatics from Informed Decisions, a federal agency that promotes research in the geoinformatics field.

The TTC will provide staff members for the project, and the University of Waterloo, University of British Columbia and a private GPS firm called InfoDev are also partners.

“We are learning new ideas from our research partners across Canada, which we can then pass along to our students,” Jaber said.

The professors’ research has broken ground on campus too.

“The co-operation between industrial and civil engineering at Ryerson is unprecedented,” said Zolfaghari.

Some Ryerson students who depend on public transit are excited at the prospect of tracking buses and streetcars from their homes.

“That would be useful and convenient,” said second-year applied geography student Kenny Wong. “I could just watch the site and then know exactly when to leave my house to catch the TTC.”

First-year aerospace engineering student Hua Xin Lo said anything’s better than the current TTC system.

“The TTC is so unreliable, you have to be outside half an hour early so you don’t miss the streetcar,” he said.

The Ryerson team’s research won’t end at the bus stop. They have already been given another $200,000 grant to place video cameras on buses to supplement Toronto’s existing system of traffic monitoring cameras.

It will give transportation planners even more up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions across the city.

“You don’t know where this research will lead,” Jaber said. “We are unlocking hidden doors—we are only at the bottom of the echelon.”

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