Real-time bus information, previously only available on two routes, is now live for every bus in the borough of Staten Island. On an average weekday, that means 127,000 local and express bus riders will be able to find out exactly how far away their bus is.
“This means more time at home with your family, relaxing with a cup of coffee,” said MTA chairman Joe Lhota today at a press conference at the Eltingville Transit Center.
The bus information can be accessed through the MTA’s BusTime website, by scanning a QR code with a smartphone, or by sending a text message with your bus stop or intersection. (Disclosure: Streetsblog’s parent organization, OpenPlans, helped build the BusTime system.)
Real-time bus information will be particularly appreciated on Staten Island. State Senator Diane Savino noted that islanders had been jealously eyeing the countdown clocks on the subway system, up to now lacking similar information even though they had to wait out in the elements rather than underground.
At the same time, the introduction of BusTime to the entire borough of Staten Island marks an enormous leap forward for MTA bus-tracking technology. While the MTA had bought an expensive proprietary system for 34th Street and then rolled out its own in-house system on Brooklyn’s B63, the new system had to tackle some additional challenges. A given bus stop can host multiple routes, for example. Perhaps more important, Staten Island’s express buses run through tunnels and into Manhattan. Previously, GPS systems had struggled to function when Manhattan’s tall buildings blocked signals. A team of engineering students from Columbia and City College, however, solved that problem, and BusTime is working fine in Manhattan.
In fact, with those kinds of challenges overcome, the MTA is ready to roll out BusTime citywide. Every bus in the five boroughs will be brought into the system by the end of 2013, according to the MTA, and more than 6,000 buses will be upgraded in the next year. “Staten Island is at the forefront of a very ambitious project,” said New York City Transit President Tom Prendergast.
Staten Islanders will also get an extra digital goodie courtesy of Borough President James Molinaro. While the MTA is making its information available by phone or online, and opening up the data for third parties to use, it isn’t installing its own hardware at bus stations listing arrival times. Worried that senior citizens might not be able to use their phones to benefit from BusTime, Molinaro tapped his discretionary budget for $200,000 to pay for arrival signs at key bus stations.
One interesting subplot from today’s presser: Staten Island has a lot of love for Joe Lhota. “You’ve got a friend running the MTA,” City Council Member James Oddo said, recounting a story of working with Lhota during the Giuliani administration. It was just one of many accolades for the MTA chairman from elected officials gathered for the event. While working for Giuliani, Lhota was responsible for closing the Fresh Kills landfill and removing the fare on the Staten Island Ferry.