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by Katie Pyzyk — January 10, 2012 at 10:34 am 3,563 120 Comments

Visitors to Java Shack (2507 Franklin Rd.) in Courthouse can now pick up more than just a coffee and bakery item. A transit screen fixed near the register lets them pick up a better idea of what transit options are available in the neighborhood.

The pilot project came about when Arlington County Commuter Services offered to put up funding for creating systems that help people better understand their transit options. They collaborated with Mobility Lab to come up with some ideas, and the transit screens were born.

David Alpert is Mobility Lab’s Project Manager for the Transit Tech Initiative, and was a bit surprised by the request. He says it’s fairly unusual for a local government to push for this kind of research and development.

“We wanted to push the envelope with this technology,” Alpert says. “It’s really great that Arlington is able to provide that.”

The screens display constantly updated times and availability for a variety of transit options, including Metrobus, Metrorail, ART Bus and Capital Bikeshare. Alpert believes more people would use public transit if they realized how many options are readily available in real time. He said public transit not only helps people get around, but improves the quality of their lives.

“Arlington has had so much growth in the Rosslyn to Ballston corridor, but not a ton of traffic growth, because so many options are out there,” Alpert said. “Buses, metro, biking. It improves, of course, the environment but people’s happiness as well.”

So far the only other location to be included in the pilot program is The Red Palace in Washington, DC. Java Shack owner Dale Roberts was approached due to his previous work with ACCS. Roberts says the screen, which hangs unobtrusively from the ceiling near the cash register, doesn’t interfere with his business at all. In fact, customers are asking about it and have given a lot of positive feedback.

“The idea is to get people to be aware that there are lots of options besides just using their own car,” Roberts said. “Seeing that screen lets me know how many options are right there at the corner of the coffee shop.”

Mobility Lab is still working out how it will fund the project in order to expand it. The equipment costs about $400, and businesses will likely have to foot the bill. Alpert says the pricing structure hasn’t been formulated yet and  many different ideas have been floated.

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