While the MTA has decided that Clever Devices’ price tag is simply too steep for the city, New Jersey Transit is moving ahead with the company’s equipment to institute a real-time bus tracking system, the agency announced yesterday. The Board of Directors of voted to authorize a $22 million deal that will outfit the so-called smart bus equipment on around 1040 buses, and New Jersey Transit bus riders will finally have a real-time bus-tracking system at their disposal.
“The use of smart bus technology will enable NJ TRANSIT Bus Operations to improve the quality and reliability of service while reducing operating costs,” Transportation Commissioner and NJ TRANSIT Board Chairman James Simpson said in a statement. “This technology will act as the central nervous system for New Jersey’s buses, transmitting critical data pertaining to ridership, vehicle condition, bus location and more, which will allow for greater efficiency in terms of scheduling, planning and maintenance.”
In announcing the deal, New Jersey Transit played up the total package of upgrades that Clever Devices will supply. These include “automatic bus stop announcements, vehicle condition monitoring, passenger counting, and real-time location reporting.” As the agency noted, these upgrades will allow it to provide real-time bus location and arrival information for “any web-enabled device.” Customers will now know how much longer they must wait for their delayed buses. The agency’s new order of 1145 buses is already equipped with this technology.
“By equipping the entire NJ TRANSIT bus fleet with smart bus technology, we are laying the foundation for providing real-time bus service information to our customers,” NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein said. “Smart bus technology will drive improvements like ‘Next Bus’ signage at key locations and new customer information tools on the web, such as maps that display graphic representations of buses as they move across the system.”
The timing of this announcement — just over a week after the MTA unveiled its in-house real-time bus-tracking solution along the B63 — allows us to make an apt comparison between the two agencies’ approaches to real-time information. From the get-go, it’s easy to see why the MTA went in-house with their plan. To outfit 1040 buses, Clever Devices is charging over $21,000 a bus while the MTA’s pilot — 30 buses at a total of $265,000 — costs around $8000 per bus. As the MTA’s bus fleet numbers in excess of 6000, the costs associated with Clever Devices — estimated by the authority at $140 million at one point — would have been substantial, and retrofitting an aging fleet for the Clever Devices array was cost-prohibitive.
Yet, as the New Jersey Transit deal shows, there is a certain allure about Clever Devices. The computerized bus system isn’t only about real-time tracking. It also provides for internal systems diagnostics and an array of other upgrades. Since New Jersey Transit’s newer buses come equipped with the technology, it made sense for the agency, flush with money that should have gone to ARC, to spend for the best of the best.
Of course, as with any technology, if Clever Devices doesn’t outlive its system’s shelf life or if the company decides to hold its contracting partners fiscally hostage, the agency could be stuck with a steep deal. The MTA, for instance, has learned about the high costs of maintaining a proprietary system throughout the lifespan of the MetroCard, and it has determined that open systems with open-source development components are both cheaper in the long term and better for customers and private developers.
Still, despite these concerns, BusTime will arrive across the river, and the 800,000 people who use New Jersey Transit buses on a daily basis will stand to benefit. Real-time tracking, it’s the way of yesteryear finally arriving in the northeast.