Home MTA Technology Report: Bus GPS plan on its last legs

Report: Bus GPS plan on its last legs

by Benjamin Kabak

Nearly a year ago, news came out that the MTA and its technology firms were at odds over a few key technology projects. The contractors could not figure out how to implement a GPS-based bus location system in New York and was, at the time, 16 months behind schedule.

Now, according to Pete Donohue, the GPS projects appears to be dying a slow, slow death. The Daily News transit scribe writes:

NYC Transit may pull the plug on a troubled $99 million project to track buses and post “real” arrival times on bus-stop message boards, the Daily News has learned. Officials have halted some work “pending a decision on the future of the project,” according to a report by the agency’s outside engineering consultant.

NYC Transit lawyers also are reviewing legal options, according to the report, which says the contractor is two years behind schedule and still having technical problems with the GPS tracking system. “It’s a dirty, rotten shame,” Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said. “A bus locator system could greatly improve bus service with better dispatching and more real-time information. If your car’s GPS can guide you around town, I don’t see why buses can’t do the same.”

The report by the Carter-Burgess engineering firm refers to problems in general terms, citing software issues, a high failure rate of onboard equipment and inaccurate arrival times relayed to message boards placed on just a handful of routes in Manhattan so far.

The MTA has recently turned off a test-run of the program, but the contractors are still claiming that they are within the contractual requirements.

No matter how this ends up, one thing is certain: As the MTA moves forward with technological investments, the agency and its contractors have to be on the same page. Other transit systems in cities with tall buildings have GPS-based bus systems; other subway systems older than ours have train arrival boards. It’s time for New York to get these features, but these technology projects seem to be stalled out.

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2 comments

Josh November 4, 2008 - 5:34 pm

Its projects like this that really bug me. The Dept. of Defense does the same thing. I don’t understand what odd engineering criteria drove the system designers to not chose off the shelf systems with proven track records.

Sure NYC is dense, with deep concrete canyons, which aren’t conducive to radio transmissions. But if ADVERTISERS can use GPS in NYC on MTA buses, then why can’t the MTA do the same?

Even still, if off-the shelf wasn’t doable, they could still build a reasonable system that functions similar to GPS, but on a local scale. All a GPS receiver does is compare the timing signals from several different satellites and triangulates based off the calculated distance. The MTA could put little lo-power transmitters that broadcasts a timing signal and a serial number, mounted on lamp posts or bus stops that allow the bus to calculate its location. Then the bus should be able to upload that position to an MTA operated wireless data network, that the displays at the stops use to display wait times. It isn’t that hard. Hell, with Verizon rolling FiOS out in the city, the MTA should be able to just lease some capacity and have a wired network for the station terminals.

–Josh
Electrical Engineer
Design and Construction Group
NYS Office of General Services

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cmdrtebok November 8, 2008 - 8:48 am

Seriously for 99 million I could have implemented this with consumer available devices. Who the hell are these guys hiring? How transparant was this contract? Do we even know who is responsible for the failure? I really hope they don’t get another contract EVER.

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