Real-Time Bus Tracking Pilot Is Live on 34th Street [Updated]

jsk_bus_display.jpgDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announces the 34th Street pilot this morning. On the left are MTA Bus president Joseph Smith, Mayor Bloomberg, and acting MTA chief Helena Williams.

Will the third time be the charm for reliable bus arrival displays in Manhattan? NYCDOT and the MTA announced today that, yes, they will deliver a tracking system bus riders can count on.

Displays counting down the minutes until the next bus arrives have been installed at eight shelters serving the M34 and M16 routes on 34th Street. All eight are live and functional, according to a DOT spokesperson, so if you’re taking a late lunch in Midtown, you can walk on over and check them out. You’ll find them at the eastbound bus stops at Tenth, Ninth, Eighth and Park, and the westbound stops at First, Second, Third, and Lexington.

The displays are part of a pilot program provided at no cost by a Long Island company called Clever Devices. A report by Michael Grynbaum in the Times’ City Room blog notes that Clever Devices installed a similar pilot for Chicago three years ago, a program called Bus Tracker that has since expanded to cover more all of the city’s bus network. The Manhattan pilot uses GPS satellite tracking to determine the position of buses. Wait times based on those positions are then transmitted to LED displays mounted at the bus shelters.

Two prior contracts for real-time bus tracking have been scrapped by the MTA, most recently this January, because the systems could not deliver accurate information to riders. Long after cities like London, Paris and Bogota implemented similar technology, New York bus riders still have to guess whether the next bus will arrive when the posted schedule says it will. If this 34th Street pilot pans out, it will mean less exasperation for straphangers, and, perhaps, a little more credibility for the MTA.

We’ll post some pics of the new displays soon. If you snap a picture of one, you can email it to tips@streetsblog.org or tag it "streetsblog" on Flickr.

  • JSD

    If this takes off, it will be a real benefit to outer borough riders. As a Staten Island resident, I would use the bus far more often if I had a more accurate picture of when the bus would actually be arriving. A trip to the mall and an inaccurate bus schedule can easily turn an 11 minute trip by car into a 50-60 minute trip by bus.

    Bus stops are plentiful in my area, and train service is strictly for getting to and from the ferry. Having an accurate picture of when the bus will be arriving will definitely help for those mid-range trips that are too far to walk, and not worth the headache of the car.

    Give us some bus only lanes on for the length of Richmond Ave, Hylan Boulevard and other multi-lane thoroughfares, and bus service could really take off here. This could be especially successful taking into account the borough’s growing diversity and proliferation of bus riders.

  • Actually, in Chicago the system has expanded to the entire system at this point.

    http://www.ctabustracker.com/

    And let me sing its praises. Of course people spend very little time waiting since they know when the bus is coming. But the real time data also allows the CTA to manage bunching and make everything run better. It’s made the bus system as a whole much more appealing.

  • Long desired, hope it works. I wonder if this will increase bus ridership? Not knowing when the bus will come is the hardest part. It puts people off from waiting — I often see potential riders walking away from bus stops in disgust.

  • M

    This would be such a help. I don’t want to know how many times I’ve waited at the bus stop, not knowing if I should stick it out or abandon the cause because of fear that the 3 minute scheduled wait would actually be 30 minutes or longer.

    I only hope it expands quickly to the routes that need it most- the few-and-far-between outer borough ones where a missed bus could mean 45 minutes, not the cross-town Manhattan routes that leave every 10.

  • henry

    why pilot on a route that hardly needs it

    can these people ever think outside their Manhattan-centric box?

  • http://www.ctabustracker.com/

    Verrrry cool. Some day…

  • rlb

    And with what M’s talking about, it needs to be something you can check online. That would completely change the ridership for buses that only come every half hour and can be later/early by ten minutes.

  • As to why pilot it in Manhattan – the visibility and publicity generated, if it works, would give the bus network some much needed good PR.

  • J

    The reason a heavy bus route is chosen is for two reasons

    1)More riders = lower cost per ride
    2) More visibility = better press
    3) More frequent = looks better

    Next buses: 2, 5 and 8 minutes away is better for press than
    Next buses 29 and 64 minutes away

  • Larry Littlefield

    Actually, I think the reason it was chosen is maximum difficulty with the tall buildings and multiple routes. If the system can make it there, it can make it anywhere.

    “You’ll find them at the eastbound bus stops at Tenth, Ninth, Eighth and Park, and the westbound stops at First, Second, Third, and Lexington.”

    That’s cheating. The hardest place to pick up the location of the buses is Madison to 7th. The only stop faced with that challenge is the eastbound stop at Park. That’s the one to check.

  • Looking forward to the day when we get a subway tracking system as well (on lines other than the L)

  • Roosevelt Island has had a GPS tracking system for the local Red Bus since January 2009 and it appears to be working well.

    Info is accessed through cell phones or PDA’s.

    Count down bus stop signage is not yet available though.

    More information below.
    http://tinyurl.com/qkulk8

  • I \v/ NY

    i have and do use real time arrival tracking all the time in portland and seattle, both of which have their entire systems trackable. just check on my computer before leaving when the vehicle arrives and also while on the go on my cell phone.

    i love it. schedules are now worthless other than for getting a rough idea of headways on a given line.

    of course on 34th street, GPS is of little use if all the buses are blocked by traffic and there ends up being one bus on each block trying to inch along. given an unobstructed set of bus lanes, traffic signal priority, low floor buses and pre-paid or no fares there could probably be only 2 or 3 buses on the entire M34. instead because of the traffic and to keep decent headways they need tons of buses of this short run.

  • NYCDOT is making a wise choice. This will make a huge difference to everyone who uses the bus service. GPS tracking technology is improving our quality of life every day.

  • Will

    I am very knowledgeable on gps syatens and i know that implementing a systen in nyc is hard.
    The buildings create a canyon effect. The reflective glass create havoc. I see why the last times the system has failed.

  • The article in the NYTimes, “Miracle on 34th Street: Knowing Bus Arrival Times”, was surprising; not because real-time bus passenger information hasn’t yet arrived in New York but because it has and most New Yorkers don’t know about it. My company, NextBus, has implemented real-time bus and water taxi arrival information on three different systems in the city; the Downtown Connection (a shuttle service run by the Downtown Alliance), on Roosevelt Island (the Red Bus), and the New York Water Taxi. We also have San Francisco and Washington, D.C. up and running, as well as such universities as Rutgers, MIT, and UCLA. Bus arrival information can be had on bus stop LED signs, cell phones, and even by using text messaging. Anyone who wants to see these live predictions in New York City today can go to http://www.nextbus.com. I’m not even sure that Mayor Bloomberg knows about how this GPS technology is already being used to benefit passengers in NYC.

    I’m glad to see that the MTA is getting back into the game; several months ago they testified to the New York City Council that they had given up on providing real-time bus arrival information. A city of New York’s stature deserves better.

  • lisa

    What about in the bronx where there a bunch of hills n u can never see if the bus is coming. Bx42 where are you?

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