Home Buses Bus arrival boards slated for decade-long rollout

Bus arrival boards slated for decade-long rollout

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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3 comments

E. Aron October 2, 2009 - 12:52 pm

You wont hear me criticize this plan. Unlike the useless time arrival boards that I saw in the subways of Milan and Rome that I mentioned in my critique on the subway plan, I found the time arrival boards for the tram and bus routes in those cities to be great.

In NYC, especially in Manhattan, knowing that the bus wont arrive for a half hour will help solidify my decision to do what I normally do rather than riding the bus – walk.

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rhywun October 2, 2009 - 7:58 pm

I think this service is more important for buses than for trains, because many of the buses run so infrequently. And even the ones that do offer frequent service are often backed up to the point where the posted schedule becomes meaningless. Because of these things, standing around for a bus just seems more wasteful and unproductive than for a train.

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NYCTAARUser October 4, 2009 - 10:20 pm

I’m confused? You write “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.”

I ride NYCT Access-A-Ride 3 times a week from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan and the buses I ride have a system which not only gives the driver my pick-up and drop-off location it provides them directions on how to do so. I speak to the drivers frequently and they have told me it not only works really well in the city with Manhattans “density and skyscrapers” it also works in the tunnel from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

The drivers also tell me the buses are monitored by NYCT and know where the drivers are at any given time. I am able to call NYCT and ask where my bus is and they are able to tell me not only where it is but when it will arrive to my house.

If the Access-A-Ride vehicles can do this, why can’t the regular city buses? It seems to me NYCT already has a well working system. Why not pursue a technology which they already have? According to the drivers and reservations people I speak with they have had this system running for more than 2 years, seems to me NYCT does not have to look much further.

My service has improved and I’m sure if NYCT and Access-A-Ride can make this work the regular bus service will improve as well.

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