(BRIDGET DOWNES / THE STATESMAN)
The SBU Smart Transit app, while made with good intentions, remains relatively unreliable.  (BRIDGET DOWNES / THE STATESMAN)

The Stony Brook University Office of Sustainability is trying to improve students’ transportation experience with the SBU Smart Transit smartphone application, the office said, despite complaints from many students of the app not working correctly.

Over 18,000 passengers used the Stony Brook bus service on Tuesdays alone in the 2013-2014 academic year, according to the transportation department. However, many interviewed students said they do not use the app frequently, which was made to help them determine when buses are coming.

“I do not use the bus often but I would be more inclined to if the school had a better information system for it,” sophomore mathematics major Barbara Duong said. “It would definitely be better than walking.”

“It is helpful sometimes, but has failed me a lot too,” sophomore English major Ana Walsh said. “I have missed buses because the app said a bus was coming but it didn’t give me enough warning.”

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“We want students to communicate with us and share what the best way to connect with them would be,” Director of Sustainability & Transportation Operations James O’Connor said. “We also want to explore the possibility of putting more information about it in student orientations.”

As it turns out, even though it is free to download, the application may not even be available to everyone. According to the app store reviews, the app is not supported on the iPhone 4.

“Stony Brook does not have any apps for Windows phones, so I cannot use any apps from SBU,” freshman engineering major Seth Messer said. “It is very inconvenient.”

According to senior health science major Sandy Ren, the bus only stops if there is someone already standing at the bus stop. So, if the app is a few minutes off, then it is very likely that the student will miss their bus.

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“The transit app does not work well,” Ren said. “I use the app often and constantly have to sprint to catch the bus.”

“I used the app for about one minute, then it froze and crashed,” sophomore biology major Meggan Touba said. “It didn’t seem to be working very well.”

The transportation department gives out a phone number ((631) 632-3741) that allows students to call the bus service and ask when the next bus will be arriving at any particular bus stop. According to the transportation department, this phone service is available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. while the buses are running.

“Students need to be aware that we want service to work for all students and for them to have a positive experience,” O’Connor said.

The Office of Sustainability’s Campus Learning Laboratory, which created the SBU Smart Transit App, is continuously working to improve the app. The lab collaborates with various academic departments like the Sustainability Studies program and the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology (CEWIT). Both undergraduate and graduate students can take part.

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The system is currently using a 3G system, but students who work in the laboratory are currently trying to upgrade that to 4G.

“There is an ongoing beauty and benefit with the Learning Laboratory because students are working on a real-life project,” O’Connor said.

They are also trying to enhance technology to improve route planning by noting how many riders are at certain spots at specific times during the day. Since the campus has a hilly topography, they are trying to improve connectivity at all spots on campus.

The Transportation Student Advisory Board and the Office of Sustainability encourage all students to attend meetings where they discuss the app as well as other transportation inquires. They have talked about how cellular timing may be improved with the introduction of 4G technology. Minutes to the meeting are posted on the Sustainability Department’s website.

O’Connor said that he and his department try to shed as much light on the current improvements on the app as possible, but also reminds students that it does take time to develop the technology.

“We are always open to feedback about all of our services,” O’Connor said. “Students should reach out to us, our email being the fastest way. They should send any comments or questions to [email protected].”

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