It’s Bus Time for MTA New York City

By Thomas F. Prendergast

Ensuring the quality of the bus and subway service MTA New York City Transit provides to more than seven million riders each day is our highest priority. Our accurate and efficient delivery of information that helps our customers access our services with greater ease and convenience than before has become our second most important job function.

Several major projects over the past two years focused on keeping riders informed of their wait time for their next bus or subway train. We have installed countdown clocks on platforms for approximately one third of the system’s subway lines. We are currently implementing a similar system we call Bus Time that makes that information available along the MTA NYC bus routes. Since January, Staten Island bus customers have responded enthusiastically to the borough-wide roll out of MTA Bus Time. Their 7,700 SMS text message queries, 3,800 requests from desktop computers and another 500 requests from mobile web devices amount to around 12,000 inquiries each weekday to know how long they have to wait.

Bus Time is a far cry from stepping off of the curb every couple of minutes to look down the street to see if the bus in on its way.

With guidance from MTA Chairman Joseph J. Lhota, this initiative has proved effective because of the impressive leadership by Darryl Irick, our senior vice president at the Department of Buses. He continues to demonstrate his willingness to embrace new technology across all three key categories: service delivery, maintenance and customer service.

Bus Time has been operating along Brooklyn’s B63 route for more than a year. In April  Manhattan’s SelectBus M34/34A routes transitioned from an earlier version to a new NYC Transit-managed system.

Work is already underway to introduce this extremely customer-friendly feature along all Bronx bus routes. By the end of 2013 riders throughout New York City will be able to use Bus Time, once we complete the installation of the technology on 6,000 buses and at approximately 14,000 bus stops.

Computers, cell phones, smartphones and other electronic devices are increasingly becoming the way we access information and NYC Transit is working diligently to ride this wave of innovation. Given this proliferation of devices, it is a reasonable expectation that we take the guesswork out of next bus and train arrival times.

When we consider the needs of our bus riders, our ability to keep them informed during their wait at bus stops is especially helpful. We know their time is precious, and this technology allows them  the opportunity to go into the corner store and pick up a newspaper, or stay home an extra few minutes to take care of personal business.

Bus Time uses location data provided by an enhanced global positioning device (GPS) mounted inside of each bus. The GPS information integrates with the bus operator login information (including the route, run and destination sign code) which is then transmitted wirelessly to a Bus Time server via onboard cellular equipment.

This server then integrates location and login information with schedules and map files to output real time “next bus information” to the customers who can now obtain this information through their cell phones, smartphones, PCs and digital displays.

Coupled with Select Bus Service (SBS), the MTA’s version of bus rapid transit (BRT), Bus Time is revolutionizing bus travel in New York City, and finally providing 21st Century solutions to problems that have existed since the first motorbus hit the streets of New York City more than 100 years ago.  BR

Thomas F. Prendergast serves as president of MTA New York City Transit.