With its proposed Capital Program for 2010-2014, the MTA is finally making a true effort catch up with transit system innovation and technology from the 1970s. Earlier today, I examined the impending 2011 arrival of subway arrival boards. Now, we turn our attention to the surface streets and look at how the implementation of this technology is progressing for buses.
Buses in New York, as long-time SAS readers know, have had a tortured history with this technology. The MTA had to abandon a pilot a short time ago when the technology, in place in various cities with tall buildings, could not handle Manhattan’s density and skyscrapers. While the authority is currently embroiled in a lawsuit over that failed bus tracking experiment, a new trial is in place along the 34th St. select bus service corridor, and this time, the agency feels that a wider roll-out is on the horizon.
In fact, the latest Capital Program Q-and-A document — available here as a PDF — further explores the plans for the bus system. The explanation starts with a statement of commitment. “NYCT and MTA Bus are committed to pursuing an Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system, which will be used to provide automated real-time bus location and arrival information to bus customers,” the document promises. “This technology will be rolled out initially along existing and planned Select Bus Service (SBS) routes, with the eventual goal of providing real-time information on all bus lines.” All of the bus lines, however, won’t receive this service until the 2015-2019 capital plan.
Currently, the MTA is testing out preexisting technologies. According to the report, the 34th St. corridor pilot is being fronted by technology from Clever Devices. This pilot is set to run through February 2010, and it comes “at no capital cost” to Transit.
At the same time, the agency has issued a request for information to all AVL providers. “Extensive market outreach is also being conducted to identify all suppliers who can competitively provide this technology,” says the MTA. “The goal of this effort will be the development of specifications that can be successfully met by existing, proven and competitively available technologies.” In other words, why reinvent the wheel if the technology already exists?
By 2010, the MTA will have its specifications in place to issue a request for proposals with a target date for the award of a contract by the end of next year. That contract, however, will cover select-bus service routes only for now including the First and Second Ave. corridors. The MTA plans to work with NYCDOT on both costs and implementation.
As to the former, this is not a cheap system. The MTA has already received $30.7 million for AVL roll-out through the current capital plan and is asking for another $50 million in the next capital plan. A systemwide cost estimate for non-SBS routes is “not currently available,” but those costs will include a technological retrofit of the entire bus fleet. It won’t be a cheap investment.
That is not to say that it shouldn’t be made. As the MTA notes, this is a necessary program, and one could argue that, as the respective implementation plans stand, the bus countdown clocks will be more useful than those underground. “AVL is expected to result in improved customer service by providing a comprehensive history of running time data that can be used to update bus schedules to better reflect actual conditions, resulting in more reliable service,” the MTA says. “AVL will also improve the ability to dispatch services, particularly in response to congestion or other unplanned events, resulting in a more efficient use of NYCT and MTA Bus resources.” A more efficient bus system would be a boon to New York’s transit infrastructure indeed.