Cambus Now app adds Bionic Bus services

Natalie Kehrli, a Bionic Bus service user, poses aboard Bionic. She has long platinum hair and is wearing red lipstick with black eyeglasses and an "Iowa" sweatshirt.
Natalie Kehrli, USG disability constituency senator and Bionic Bus rider. Photo by Tim Schoon.

By Jack Rossi | 2023.03.22 

The University of Iowa’s door-to-door, demand-response Bionic Bus service can now be scheduled on the free Cambus Now app. The new scheduling software allows students, faculty, or staff with a qualifying disability navigating campus to easily schedule trips, view live bus locations, and receive trip notifications directly from their phones.

Since 1975, the university has provided a transportation service for students with disabilities, but the Bionic Bus wasn’t under the operation of Cambus until 1978, when it became fare-free for UI students, faculty, and staff. Shortly after the transition, riders dubbed the service the “Bionic Bus,” and the name stuck.

Bionic Bus has seen many improvements over the years, including new minibuses with ramps to allow for greater accessibility. Adding Bionic Bus to the Cambus Now app brings the service to users’ cellphones—making it more timely and easier to use.

“The Bionic Bus was able to be contacted via phone dispatch or email, but for one-time or on-demand rides, students would have to call the Bionic Bus line to request a ride,” says Iowa sophomore Natalie Kehrli, who regularly uses the service. “This was difficult because sometimes the line was busy, or you may not be in a place where you can talk on the phone.”

UI Parking and Transportation launched the Cambus Now app in November.

“We are excited to add Bionic Bus to the Cambus Now app to be able to offer more options for riders to interact with the service,” says Cambus operations manager Mia Brunelli. “We believe these features will improve reliability and efficiency for our riders.”

The Cambus Now app allows approved UI community members to request Bionic Bus services within the app and track its location, which is a relief for Kehrli.

Kehrli requests the bus for longer trips around campus. Before the app, she would not know how long she would have to wait for the bus, or if it was running ahead or behind schedule. For updates, she would have to call the dispatch center.

“It felt like a lot of unnecessary steps to take, and it wasn’t as efficient as it could be,” she says.

Natalie Kehrli, a Bionic Bus service user, poses aboard Bionic. She has long platinum hair and is wearing red lipstick with black eyeglasses and an "Iowa" sweatshirt.

Kehrli is also a member of Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and served as the disability constituency senator. USG prioritized working with Parking and Transportation to add Bionic Bus to the scheduling app to help the increasing number of students who could use the service, she says.

Brunelli and her team, who were already in the process of procuring an app, used feedback from USG to reinforce their belief of what students wanted and prioritize the best app features for the Bionic Bus service.

The Cambus Now app improves the Bionic Bus experience in these ways:

  • Gives riders the ability to schedule and cancel rides through the app.
  • Sends riders notifications or SMS text messages about their ride, including confirmation details, when the bus is on its way, and when it has arrived.
  • Shows riders confirmation details of upcoming rides they have scheduled.

“For me and all students, I believe this will make the entire process much more efficient and accessible,” says Kehrli. “From being able to schedule things for yourself to being able to see where your bus actually is, I hope this will create a better experience for everyone.”

Cambus Now is available for download on both iPhone and Android devices.

Quinn O Brien, Bionic Bus driver, poses with his arm on the hood of a Bionic Bus