MTA scrapping the bus arrival board project


If London can do it, so can we.

The MTA’s mediocre technological track record is about to get worse.

As we know, the MTA has its issues with late 20th Century technology. Other subway systems in lesser cities have managed to figure out ways to display when the next train is coming, where the next bus is and how delayed the service is. But in New York, while we’ve long heard promises of seemingly futuristic technology and the L trains even offer us glimpses of that future, the MTA hasn’t figured out a way to implement basic transportation system technologies.

Now, though, we have news that these technologies — this one involving bus arrival times — aren’t coming as quickly as the MTA would like or as the riders expect. In fact, they may not even be implemented at all.

According to a weekend report in The Daily News, the MTA is shelving the bus arrival time project for now. Amanda Coleman and Pete Donohue have this tale of woe:

NYC Transit’s 12-year quest to display real-time bus arrival information at bus stops has hit another bump and veered off the road. Transit officials have stopped posting estimated arrival times to electronic message boards along six different Manhattan routes because of technical problems resulting in inaccurate arrival times being given, a transit official told the Daily News.

NYC Transit spokesman Charles Seaton couldn’t say when the communications system, which went online in October, might again be put into use.

This is just sad on so many levels, and Straphangers Campaign guru Gene Russianoff offers up just that assessment. “I’m saddened because I consider real-time information one of the best things a transit system can offer, and it’s frustrating it has been so hard for them to do it,” he said.

This project has its roots in the mid-1990s, but the MTA didn’t make real progress until they reached a $13-million deal with Siemens to begin a test pilot program along six bus lines. The contract had a full-scale implementation option for $109 million, but that reality is unlikely.

For some reason — a reason I can’t explain — the MTA can’t get their technological projects off the ground. Their underground cell service plan is fraught with difficulties, and the Citizens Adivsory Committee recently criticized the MTA for falling behind schedule with their plans to install train arrival information screens throughout the system.

Maybe it’s a matter of priority. If so, the MTA should being to prioritize these projects. New Yorkers need a 21st Century subway system, and right now, we don’t even have a late 20th Century system. We have fancy new train cars and a constant stream of renovated stations, but we don’t have the infrastructure of a forward-looking subway system.

Until the MTA can figure out how to get technological innovations in place in a timely and fiscally responsible way, we’ll be stuck peering into dark tunnels or down crowded avenues looking for any glimpse of an oncoming train or bus. That’s no way to run a transit system.

16 Responses to “MTA scrapping the bus arrival board project”

  1. The Secret Conductor says:

    This has to be a cost saving move… I do wonder if there were major problems in implementing this project. I can understand subways being a problem with water, steel dust, constant rumbling and vermin destroying stuff but what can happen outside?

    I feel that this project should have not had any problems… I mean you have GPS working, why wouldn’t this work? I would love to find out why this is not going to happen.

    Phones underground… NEVER!!!!

    L trrain… well, it actually works most of the time, but when you have delays in service, then you end up with announcements and signage that is wrong… the question is why doesn’t it adjust itself when the train is late? Sometimes it does but the error rate is just a little high to me.

  2. Peter says:

    Is that Scraping or Scrapping -?

    I believe this is the SECOND time that NYCT DoB has killed an electronic bus scheduling/locating system, with the excuse last time being that interference from tall buildings prevented GPS signals from being rec’d.

    Shouldnt be too hard to find out the contract number associated with this job, determine what the specs were, who the contractor(s) was/were, and find out what was promised and what was paid. It had to be publicly presented to the MTA Board.

  3. Harlan says:

    Jesus Christ. The MTA needs to give its information technology wing to Google. Half a dozen programmers from the New York office, on their 10% time, could do a better job.

  4. Eric says:

    I will bet you money the problem is the decision to use Siemens. The Siemens bus system is adapted from their train system, and they have struggled to make it work for buses. The bus system here in Kansas City, MO chose Siemens for a new BRT line and it has taken over two years of work for them to make the arrival time system reliable. This is a single line without much congestion. I can only imagine how badly the Siemens system failed in New York City.

    NextBus would have been a better choice. Their system is in use in many transit systems with great success, for example San Francisco and Portland. It sounds like the MTA screwed itself by choosing a cheap bid from a vendor willing to cut prices in order to get into the market.

  5. TG says:

    The problem the MTA currently faces is that it can’t predict how long until a bus arrives, given its location. In a traffic environment as complex and dynamic as NYC, it is understandably very difficult to make such predictions. All it takes is one wheelchair boarding to throw a bus a minute or two off its previously-anticipated schedule.

    The simple solution to this would be to display bus locations as distances, rather than times. E.g. M101 is 0.8 miles away, M103 is 0.4 miles away, etc. The information may be less useful than when provided in minutes, but it would be precisely accurate. People are intelligent enough to use their own experience and judgment to interpret what the numbers mean in practice.

  6. anonymous says:

    Oh, so it was Siemens. That explains everything. They were also behind the CBTC system on the L train, the one that was supposed to have been in service in 2005 or so, but seems to have been postponed indefinitely after quite a lot of time and money spent on the MTA’s part.

  7. mg says:

    siemens is also behind the failed train arrival boards on the IRT lines. They should be banned from bidding on MTA projects ever again.

  8. Eric says:

    Sounds like the MTA should review its contracts with Siemens and see if they can get some money back. KC has intentionally delayed paying Siemens until they can the AVL system working.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Which contractor did London use for its bus arrival boards?

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