Updated (6:32 p.m.): The bus system in New York City suffers from a reliability problem. Because buses don’t adhere to the schedule and are at the whims of street traffic, riders never know with much certainty when the next bus is going to show up. We don’t know if it’s better to wait for the bus or to start walking, and we don’t know how well traffic is moving down the road.
Starting today, a new MTA pilot should improve that system. For the first time, city bus riders can now track the exact location of buses as they meander through Midtown. Called MTA BusTime and launched in conjunction with Clever Devices, the new service GPS-based service allows for real-time, web-based tracking of buses along the M16 and M34 routes. It is available at the MTA BusTime website, and Transit says the new pilot is “aimed at giving riders a quick and easy means of determining approximately when the next bus will arrive at a specific stop.” The information will be available online, via email and via text message.
“Why rush to the bus stop when you can finish your cup of coffee or stop and grab a newspaper? Now we’re providing our customers with the information they need to make informed decisions about their travel before they get to the bus stop,” Transit President Thomas Prendergast said in a statement. “Along with the new train arrival screens that are being activated in subways stations around the City, MTA BusTime is another example of how we are developing new ways to give customers information they can use.”
The system, explains Transit, uses GPS devices that report bus location data. In real time, the BusTime will show where buses are either on a map, which
doesn’t appear to show the buses right now will show the buses if you click on the “ROUTE” button and then select the bus or buses you want to see, or on a mobile-optimized timesheet page. “Using this information,” Transit says, “customers will know when a bus is estimated to arrive at a particular stop, even if they are still at the office, shopping, or dining.”
It’s hard to stress how much of a game-changing this app could be for the city’s buses. All of a sudden, I know that, in 13 minutes from when I wrote this, an eastbound M16 is going to stop at 34th St. and 3rd Ave. I can time when to leave my house; I can decide if I want to take the bus or wait; I can determine the best way to make the bus work for me. It is empowering the rider, and if Transit can introduce the pilot on a wider scheme, bus ridership should shoot up in response.