Review of GoFred bus tracker (beta)

Posted by on 09 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: Fredericton, opengovernment, Reviews, transit

Fredericton Transit just released a bus-tracker mobile app for Android. (or did they, as a recently printed Gleaner article implied it was CGI’s idea). It’s still in beta, and completely unfit for general use as they don’t have GPS tracking available for every bus in the fleet. However, it’s a great example of how open data can be used.

All of the screenshots below were copied from the Android Market page as Android phones don’t have the ability to take screenshots (unless they are rooted).

The opening screen implies that this app won’t just be for bus tracking. Hopefully we’ll see some more services on there soon.

 

Here we have the main menu. The bus tracker is the important part of the app, the route planner just takes you to your phone’s built-in Google Maps Transit navigation service, the schedule just goes to the city’s web site.

 

Here, we can choose which route to track. For a really good test, you can click “all routes”

 

And here’s the main screen. The first issue that jumps out is that we see the fleet numbers in the bus icons. This is because they are getting their data from the dispatch system. The fleet numbers are very useful for dispatchers, but not that good for the general public. If you click on one of the icons (like you see above), you’ll see the route numbers listed. Trouble is, as in the example above, you see two route numbers and no direction (N or S). If you’re waiting for a specific bus, you won’t actually know which one is yours until it is close enough for you to see the destination sign.

Great start, but needs some work.

Future plans?

At this time, nothing has been divulged. One hopes that they are able to fix some of the issues above before they go out of beta. For that to happen, they would have to have access to the dispatch schedules to determine which actual run the bus is doing. From there, they could determine how long you have to wait for the next bus at any particular location. That would allow for a phone (text or IVR) interface as well as other innovations such as display signs.

It would also be nice if they indicated the accessibility level of the bus. They could display an icon for a low-floor bus.

Once that is complete, the next step would be to open the data so it could be used by anyone. Don’t want to support an obsolete phone platform? No problem, let someone else do it instead. Want to let a business make their own transit info sign? No problem!

It’s a great start, hopefully the momentum continues and allows the app to get better.

Update: iOS version now on iTunes

Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol

Posted by on 08 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton

Remember the 4th installment of the Police Academy series? You probably only remember the scenes with the guy that could make all those sounds. Yeah, those were pretty funny. The plot of the movie was that the police department enlisted citizen volunteers to help with crime. If it worked there, it should work in Fredericton, right?

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/story/2011/12/07/nb-macknight-volunteer-speeding-616.html

A few things that may be at play here:

People are always complaining that speeding is an issue in their neighbourhood. The police are probably tired of hearing all the complaining so they came up with this proposal.

There is a perception that the police just don’t do enough enforcement of traffic laws. You perceive this every time you are stopped behind someone in a merge lane, or stuck at a blocked intersection. Sometimes you’ll see a cop car just sit there while this happens. Don’t forget all the media attention that the bicycles on the sidewalk got.

The city doesn’t receive a penny from the speeding fines. There is no incentive for them to write more tickets. This causes it to be considered a cost, instead of being revenue-neutral.

So where do you see speeders pulled over? Knowledge Park Drive, because it’s really easy. The speed limit is 50, yet the road just goes through the middle of the woods with no houses or businesses on either side. All of the officers can fill their ticket quotas on the first of the month on that street.

Maybe there’s more to this story than what we are hearing. Perhaps this is a hidden request by the police to have their budget increased? Isn’t the budget coming up for vote next week? Hmmmm. In any case, the Fredericton Police Force has an image problem, this will just make it worse. Stop coming up with questionable plans and start writing tickets.

Laser fat removal FAQ

Posted by on 01 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: Reviews

In the Fredericton area, there has been an advertising campaign on a local radio station for a laser fat removal procedure. After doing some searching, I’ve created a FAQ.

Does it actually work?

Inconclusive. There was a single study that claimed it did, but it does not appear to have been done in a controlled manner. It was also conducted by people who were also selling the treatment. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence both for and against this procedure actually working.

Is it safe?

Inconclusive. There have been no studies performed that track short or long-term side-effects.

How does it work?

The laser light breaks down the walls of the fat cells. The fat is then flushed away and either excremented out or redeposited elsewhere in the body. As there have been no scientific studies performed, we don’t really know.

The treatment provider also has the patient follow a strict diet and exercise plan. This plan is similar to many commercially available weight loss programs. It is unclear how much of the weight/fat loss is performed by the laser, or the weight loss plan.

How much does it cost?

It would probably depend on how much you want to lose, but prices of $2,000 have been quoted online.

What are the issues with the radio ads?

The trans-media ads (using the radio and social media) were misleading.

1. One host claimed to have lost 9.5 inches. While most other weight loss plans measure their inches lost around the waist, this measurement is the sum of four separate measurements. A measurement is taken at the waist, hip and each thigh and then they are all added together. This makes a larger number, but was not disclosed anywhere in the advertising.

2. One host claimed the laser system caused him to lose a significant number of inches, but he was also on another commercial weight loss program at the same time (unrelated to the current campaign). While this was disclosed on the radio, it was never disclosed during the advertising segments, nor is it disclosed on the Facebook page. One can piece together their own conclusions while listening to the radio, but not everyone will have heard those segments. The advertising was presented in a manner that suggested that it was only the laser procedure that caused the fat loss.

Conclusion

Maybe this procedure works, maybe it doesn’t. The fact of the matter is that there are no quick fixes to weight loss. You need to make major lifestyle changes. Even if you could actually go “pew, pew, pew” and have the fat blasted away, it isn’t a permanent fix. You’ll just gain it all back again. This system is for people who want a quick fix and don’t mind spending a lot of money to do it.

If you really want to lose weight, try a cheaper commercial weight loss plan, like WW or SFL. It won’t be easy, or fast, but it will be long-term if you are willing to put the effort into it.

 

 

Lady Gaga in Moncton? Probably not.

Posted by on 14 Nov 2011 | Tagged as: Crap

This video has shown up this evening. It claims to be Lada Gaga arriving in Moncton.

The first thing that you notice is that the airport is completely empty. This would indicate that she would not have come on a commercial flight. A quick search of Twitter showed no tweets of people seeing her in any other airport today, which means that she would have come in on a private aircraft.

How do we know if any private jets arrived? We can look up incoming flights of FlightAware.com:

There were no private jets at the Moncton airport today.

Another clue is that it would seem odd to have the camera rolling ahead of discovering that it was a celebrity sighting. Also note the prominent placement of the video author’s name.

Here’s video #2, which doesn’t really have too much in it:

Why would someone drive with the windows down on a cool Moncton autumn day?
If she was checking out the site, why would she walk down the dirt road? Wouldn’t concert site organizers be escorting her all around?

Also: The Times Transcript interviewed the manager of the airport who said that celebrities don’t use the main airport terminal.

Update: One of the video’s authors posted this as a confession that it is a hoax. It was created by two employees from La Mine D’Or, a local jewelry store to promote a Children’s Wish event.

Another example of dangerous Fredericton driving

Posted by on 14 Nov 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton

It feels good to be helpful. It feels nice to let people out in traffic. It feels good that you sacrificed your right of way to another driver. Most of us do it, even me, as long as it’s safe.

Trouble is, there are a lot of places where it isn’t safe. Let’s have a look at our example intersection below, it looks like many in the city, particularly Exit 5 and Wilsey Rd (where I have witnessed this happen many times).

Driver A sees that there’s a long line of cars behind B who are waiting to turn left. He feels sorry for them waiting and decides to wave driver B out. Driver B can’t see driver C because of the long line of cars behind A, so he pulls out.

Both drivers B and C will need a clean pair of pants, or worse.

Yes, it’s nice to let people out, but please, don’t do it on roads that have more than a single lane.

Where did the Fredericton Transit wi-fi go?

Posted by on 17 Oct 2011 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, transit

Where did the wi-fi go?
There was a lot of hype about it, but then, nothing. There are two reasons:

1. It wasn’t cheap. Costs weren’t made public, but I can’t imagine it would have been cheap to equip every bus with it. As Fredericton Transit doesn’t seem to care that much about passenger amenities/comfort, they just decided not to spend the money.

2. It didn’t really work that well. During the test period, they had a live webcam attached to one of the buses. As that was using the same connection as the wifi, the connection could be tested without having to go on that specific bus. If you watched it for any period of time, you’d see that the camera image wouldn’t update if the bus was travelling more than 60km/h. It also had reception issues on some areas on the north side, including Marysville. They may have been able to fix them, but that could have been expensive.

Sadly, that also means that there won’t be any real-time GPS-based updates. That system came with the wi-fi. For the time being, you’ll have to call the transit info line for real-time updates. (Of course, that line is closed for most of the morning and evening rush).

 

Fredericton to install bike-detecting traffic light sensor

Posted by on 03 Oct 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton, Reviews

As seen here, on the CBC, Fredericton is purchasing a traffic light sensor that can detect bicycles. $15,000 sounds a little steep for something that only bikes will use, doesn’t it? Fear not, as this device, according to the manufacturer, has advantages for drivers of non-bikes as well:

  • It does a better job of detecting motorcycles
  • It can see cars coming from 100ft away and trigger the light change earlier
  • If the light’s about to change, it can hold the green for you if you’re less than 100ft away
  • It tracks the direction of traffic so someone turning left too tightly won’t trigger the lights for the cross-traffic
  • It works in all kinds of weather
  • It sits on the pole so the road won’t have to be dug up when it breaks

$15,000 sounds like a lot, but compared to digging up the road to install an underground metal-detector loop, it’s a bargain.

Fredericton Council still clueless about paratransit

Posted by on 26 Sep 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton, transit

Despite spending piles of money on accessible transit buses, Fredericton City Council members can’t seem to see the most obvious solution to deal with the shortcomings in their paratransit system.

They again failed to look at the relatively inexpensive option of designating certain regular transit routes as being accessible. How easily can they do this? For the past eight years, Fredericton Transit has been purchasing low-floor accessible buses. They already have enough to guarantee that some runs will only use those accessible buses. This will easily allow them to move the least impaired people onto the regular system while keeping the para-transit for the riders that need it the most.

Yes, it will take longer to load passengers, but remember that 10 out of 30 minutes of a Fredericton Transit bus’s run time is idling at King’s Place or the Regent Mall, so it won’t greatly affect on-time performance.

At this point, about half of the fleet is already low-floor. They could start with route #16, which goes by the medical clinic and the hospital. At some point (the year 2029), the entire fleet will be accessible, but until then, they can slowly add routes to the accessible list as the older buses are retired.

Tax funded survey keeps Fredericton City Council incumbents in power

Posted by on 15 Sep 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton, opengovernment

Municipal elections for Fredericton will be held in May of 2012. The city recently held an “attitude survey” where they tallied up people’s opinions of what’s right and wrong about City operations. That survey would be very valuable to anyone running for council. Having access to the data would help a candidate form a platform.

So who has access to this data? The 13 elected members of council, and nobody else. How fair is that? They get to see the full thing where the rest of us get to see a press release that’s full of spin.

It makes it difficult for new people to get involved in municipal politics when the people at the top make it hard to get in.


Disclaimer: The author of this blog is not running for council in 2012.

Can we have a compromise on the biking on the sidewalks in Fredericton?

Posted by on 02 Aug 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton

I have been seeing a lot of discussions about whether people in Fredericton should be allowed to bike on the sidewalks. The reality of the matter is that there is a perception that biking on the street is unsafe and the city won’t enforce the current bylaws (unless you’re Charles LeBlanc). However, many people are upset at the sheer number of cyclists that just fly by them downtown.

I propose a compromise:

Allow bicycles on sidewalks when the following conditions are met:

  • The cyclist must give right-of-way to pedestrians and cars entering/exiting driveways
  • When coming up on someone, the cyclist must slow down and pass slowly
  • Certain areas (such as downtown) will be walk-your-bike zones and will be signed
  • Cyclists must choose either the road or the sidewalk and not weave on and off the road

The police/park patrol must actively enforce the new rules or else there will continue to be resistance to bicycles on the sidewalk

 

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