Nashville bus app under development earns kudos, $200K NSF grant

T-HUB, designed by engineers at Vanderbilt's Institute for Software Integrated Systems, is designed to attract and retain bus riders by taking out the guesswork.

Nashville’s mass transit leaders are banking on a Vanderbilt University-produced app to get people out of their cars and onto city buses.

It allows for real-time tracking – eliminating lengthy waits outdoors – plus social network sharing options to inspire users’ friends, estimates of how many calories burned walking to stops and data on individual carbon footprint reduction.

A team of developers at Vanderbilt’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems unveiled their app, called T-HUB, at last month’s Global Cities Teams Challenge in Washington, D.C.

In a presentation to all the assembled research teams, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx only mentioned two schools by name — Vanderbilt and MIT.

Vanderbilt also received $200,000 National Science Foundation grant related to the project.

Other cities have transit apps. What sets Vanderbilt’s apart is its potential to overcome the roadblocks in users’ minds.

Abhishek Dubey, left, and MTA IT Manager Rob McElhaney discuss T-HUB. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

“If people are intimidated by the bus schedule, or they have a car already, this is better than just saying, ‘It’s good for the environment,’” said Abhishek Dubey, the project’s principal investigator. “How good is it for the environment? T-HUB tells you, if you take the bus, this is the amount of fuel saved, this is the number of calories burned.”

The app will be available to the public in late 2015.

Here’s how it works:

Metro Transit Authority will place GPS sensors on 170 buses and upload data from them once a minute. Using the Google product GTFS-realtime, the app’s developers will push that information back out to users in the form of estimated arrival times.

Users also can get instant route options to plan their trips. They can use a weekly calendar to set their plans – bus or car, day by day – and then be prompted daily to enter whether they followed through. That’s where the calorie and carbon footprint information comes from.

All data collected from app usage will be available to MTA to improve service. It also will be available to the public through Nashville’s Open Data initiative, but individual users will not be identifiable.

Watch a video about T-HUB.

“If we can make it easier for the general public to understand our network and make it more transparent, it will lead to an increase in ridership and make it easier for people who haven’t ridden in it in the past to take the first trip,” said Dan Freudberg, MTA’s scheduling manager. “Our goal is getting that first-time customer on board and retaining them.”

The team also is working with Siemens Corporate Technology on City Hub, a device that could be placed at the Music City Central main bus terminal or the city’s convention center so tourists – particularly those without working smartphones – can find MTA route information plus restaurants, attractions, lodging and things to do.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering