City officials hopped on a public bus Tuesday to celebrate the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s new tracking and fare system — with Mayor LaToya Cantrell behind the wheel.
Taking the helm of a bus equipped with the RTA’s new “Go Mobile” software, which allows riders to pay their fares through an app on their phones, Cantrell took a spin around the parking lot at the RTA's headquarters on Canal Street.
The new app tracks buses and streetcars in real time, just as ride-booking services like Uber and Lyft track their drivers. Riders will also receive alerts about detours and other service changes.
The software, which the RTA bought in response to rider demand, will be available for download to Android and iPhone devices starting Sunday.
“No longer will people have to stand and wait and wonder where their bus is," Cantrell said. "Or, if they have to wait, they can make a real-time decision to connect to another route.”
The new system has been in the works for more than a year and has been through numerous test runs.
It has been pitched as a way to ease rider commutes and put the RTA on a par with public transit systems in other cities that have offered similar real-time technology for years.
It also fulfills a longtime promise. The RTA unveiled a so-called real-time tracker in 2012, dubbed NOLA Transit, but that system was plagued by slip-ups resulting from the agency's failure to install GPS tracking units in buses.
That app also didn't have the fare purchase capability that the latest model has. Through Go Mobile, riders can scan their purchases into devices that have been placed on all RTA vehicles.
Riders without smartphones will still be able to use cash, printed tickets or tokens to board buses or streetcars.
The system allows riders to see exactly where their bus, streetcar or ferry is and when it is expected to arrive.
Through a separate feature, riders can enter a departure address and a destination address and receive a list of suggested bus or streetcar routes.
New monitors in the vehicles now display advertising, government information and service alerts, and an announcement system alerts riders when and where vehicles are about to stop.
When the RTA unveils its new single pass for travel between Jefferson and Orleans parishes in September, that pass will also be available for in-app purchase.
"The result is that our passengers will be better informed and will find it easier and more convenient to ride the RTA," said Justin Augustine III, the local head of Transdev, the French company that runs the RTA's operations.