PROVO — The bus is sometimes late. Or sometimes, even worse, it's a bit early, arriving before you do. Many Utah Transit Authority riders have had that sinking feeling as they watch a train or bus drive away.
It's something BYU student Jason Johnson knew all too well. Hoping never to miss his ride again, Johnson developed an app that allows anyone with an iPhone, iPad or iPod to keep track of where their bus or train is in real time, right down to the foot.
"I remember waiting for a bus for 30 or 45 minutes and finding that it had broken down or that it came 10 minutes early and I had missed it and it was just really frustrating a lot of times."
Johnson, a Master's student studying Information Systems Management, developed UTA Route Tracker over several months for a class he was taking. After he and his colleagues won an honorable mention in a BYU app contest, they decided to make it into a capstone project and upload it to the iPhone App Store for the general public.
The program uses GPS information that UTA makes publicly available to any developer that tracks every vehicle. It's the same information that Google uses to track buses in Utah and several other major metropolitan areas.
Johnson said the app is accurate to within a few hundred feet, depending on how fast a bus is going, but that when stopped at a traffic light or a pick-up stop, the position of a UTA vehicle is dead on.
UTA makes that information available to developers through a website, developer.rideuta.com. His app will also provide updates for new stops and routes, including the upcoming Airport TRAX line that opens this weekend.
After asking students at local universities what they'd be willing to pay for such a service, he has made UTA Route Tracker available for $3.99 in the app store, though he hopes to bring the price down in the future depending on how people respond.
"I think it's the best on the market right now," he said. "But at the same time I didn't make it for the money, I made it for my class and being able to learn and being able to solve a problem."
Johnson said he wants to create an Android version soon, but a new full-time job working for Adobe at their new campus could get in the way of completing the project. Regardless, he'll be providing updates and support for the iPhone app on an ongoing basis.