A new mobile phone application that gives transit users real-time bus and light rail arrival times has rapidly become popular among commuters despite a total lack of publicity.

The NextRide app sent out about 111,000 texts in January to transit users who called or texted via cell to inquire about the next bus or Metro train. That compares with just 3,400 in texts in August, when NextRide was first available at a limited number of bus stops, said Scott Wisner, Valley Metro's customer service manager.

"It's already exceeded our projections, to be honest with you," Wisner said. "I was thinking it would be around 100,000."

To use NextRide, commuters look for signs that have been posted at all of the Valley's 7,500 bus and light rail stops. Then cell phone users can call Valley Metro or text each station's unique five-digit code. NextRide uses Global Positioning Satellite technology to calculate the approximate arrival time for a bus or train that's within 15 minutes. If the wait time is between 15 minutes and 45 minutes, the scheduled arrival time will be given.

Valley Metro waited to publicize NextRide until now, when all the signs were posted and technicians fixed glitches in the system, Wisner said.

The $300,000 system was 80 percent funded by a federal grant, with the remainder from local transit funding. It's similar to systems in San Francisco, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Denver, New Jersey Transit and Portland.

NextRide has reduced the number of calls to Valley Metro's customer service line while allowing operators to answer the line faster and spend more time on complex questions, spokeswoman Susan Tierney said. It could also let commuters spend less time at a stop and more time at home or in the office by having real-time information, she said.

"It provides a level of comfort knowing when the next bus or train will be at that stop," Tierney said.

Commuters can use NextRide by sending an SMS text to 64274, enter NXRD and the stop number on each stop. Or, they can go to www.valleymetro.org.

And commuters can call (602) 253-5000, and say NextRide or enter the stop number.

Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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