Navigating Bakersfield's public bus system just got a lot easier -- for people with access to a smartphone or a computer.
Golden Empire Transit District this week announced the availability of a free online "trip planner" powered by Google, the Internet search giant.
The system is fairly simple. Using a smartphone or computer, go to getbus.org and type in your location, destination and preferred time of departure or arrival. A brief moment later Google Maps displays detailed options for travel, including which bus line to take.
"We did a number of tests on it and it does work fairly well," GET spokeswoman Gina Hayden said. She noted, however, that the top-listed option is not always the most convenient. Depending on whether travelers value time over minimal bus transfers, she said, they may want to pursue the second- or third-listed option.
The system cost GET about $2,500 to implement, Hayden said, with much of the work involved done by Google at no charge. Its introduction followed shortly after GET launched new routes and schedules, which have confused and frustrated many of the district's customers.
Also announced this week was the availability of free wireless Internet service, or Wi-Fi, at GET's three transit hubs -- downtown, near Valley Plaza mall and at Bakersfield College -- as well as at the district's Golden State Avenue headquarters. Already as many as 100 people a day use the free Wi-Fi, Hayden said.
Another technological advancement being developed for the benefit of GET passengers would automatically announce bus stops, freeing bus drivers who may be too busy or distracted to call out the names of streets.
The system, known in the industry as automated vehicle location, is also expected to offer a texting option in which customers awaiting a bus will be able to send a typed message by cellphone and quickly receive a response stating how soon the next bus is estimated to arrive.
Hayden said the automated system may be ready within about a year.