Home Asides BusTime to hit Manhattan next, citywide by mid 2014

BusTime to hit Manhattan next, citywide by mid 2014

by Benjamin Kabak

The MTA’s goal of rolling out BusTime to all five boroughs by April of 2013 is a bit off schedule, the agency announced today. With all of the Bronx and Staten Island bus routes already equipped with the real-time bus location service and some Brooklyn routes enjoying it as well, Manhattan buses will soon follow suit. After Manhattan will come Brooklyn, followed by Queens before the end of next April. In other words, within 13 months, the city’s bus riders will be able to track every single bus then in service.

“Bus Time has proven extremely popular among bus riders on Staten Island and the Bronx – and I can tell you that because customers have come to me on buses in the Bronx and said we did a really great job on Bus Time,” Fernando Ferrer, MTA Acting Chairman, said in a statement. “They find it useful and easy to access, and I think that’s a tremendous endorsement of what we have been doing. Bus Time is so helpful to our customers that we have scheduled an extremely aggressive timetable to introduce it to three other boroughs.”

That extremely aggressive timetable is actually less aggressive than it was 17 months ago, but that doesn’t obscure the fact that BusTime will aid bus travelers. No longer will we stand frustratedly at bus shelters with no vehicle in sight, and the decision to grab a snack, walk or wait will be a much easier one to make. Absent real bus network improvements — dedicated rights of way, faster fare payment methods — the ubiquitous nature of BusTime should continue to stem the decline in bus ridership we’ve seen over the last few years. The debate, however, between BusTime’s location-based tracking and countdown clocks remains a hot topic.

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Phillip Roncoroni March 13, 2013 - 4:10 pm

I still don’t understand why Queens is the last borough to get this. Outside of Staten Island, Queens is the most heavily dependent on buses due to the lack of subway access in core parts of the borough.

Benjamin Kabak March 13, 2013 - 4:13 pm

I had the same question, and the MTA offered up this answer: “It’s based on the order of deployment of internal scheduling software that is a key component of Bus Time and allows us to print the new Guide-A-Rides that are associated with Bus Time.”

Andrew March 13, 2013 - 7:51 pm

Two words: MTA Bus. Just a guess, but while NYCT buses have had Guide-A-Rides for decades, MTA Bus is only just now joining the bandwagon, and that’s probably what’s holding up implementation.

So the progression for the remaining boroughs is Manhattan (entirely NYCT), then Brooklyn (mostly NYCT, with a few MTA Bus routes), then Queens (about half MTA Bus).

And, in a way, the greater availability of alternatives in Manhattan makes BusTime especially useful there. In Queens, if the next bus is 20 minutes away, you’re probably going to wait for it anyway. In Manhattan, if the next bus is 20 minutes away, there’s a pretty good chance that you can walk an avenue block or two to a different bus line or to the subway.

Alex C March 13, 2013 - 10:27 pm

This. MTA Bus/NYCTA Bus still aren’t 100% merged in terms of operations. Then there’s the issue of all the old buses MTA Bus has; some of which will be retiring.

Someone March 14, 2013 - 9:32 pm

And also the fact that MTA Bus doesn’t (and probably can’t) run 60-footers.

Boris March 13, 2013 - 5:30 pm

That’s basically the reason – bus-dependence means more buses. The size and complexity (lots of routes that cross into Brooklyn and vice-versa) means it takes longer to install and test equipment and scale up the processing power. On the other hand, because of the big overlap with Brooklyn, most Queens coverage will be achieved together with Brooklyn or soon after.

Frank B March 13, 2013 - 6:31 pm

While I do applaud that notion to some extent; note that most neighborhoods that border Brooklyn such as Long Island City, Ridgewood, Woodhaven, Ozone Park, etc. already have subway and elevated services; most of these neighborhoods already have subway service into Manhattan and all of these listed neighborhoods have direct service into Brooklyn, bypassing Manhattan, via the G, M, A, J and Z trains.

The true areas of Queens that desperately needed bus time are east of the Van Wyck; in the entire borough; there are less than 10 subway stations east of the Van Wyck Expressway.

East of the Van Wyck, neighborhoods of Eastern Queens; like Whitestone, College Point, St. Albans, Rosedale, Glen Oaks, Oakland Gardens, Bayside, Bay Terrace, Cambria Heights, Rochdale, Springfield Gardens, etc. are ALL outside walking distance of a subway station.

Other neighborhoods that are closer to Manhattan, such as Maspeth, East Elmhurst, Corona etc. but are still not within walking distance would have also greatly benefited from BusTime.

There is comparatively better subway coverage in The Bronx and Manhattan; nearly all of it has decent transit.

Brooklyn has 170 subway stations, and Queens has 81, despite being the biggest borough. While Staten Island definitely needed and deserved BusTime first, I strongly object to Queens receiving it last.

As the biggest borough, and second most populous, with less stations than Brooklyn or Manhattan, there was simply no excuse and it was absolutely ludicrous to make us wait until next year for BusTime.

Someone March 13, 2013 - 7:19 pm

BusTime and BRT and LRT AND new subway lines are needed east of VWE.

Frank B March 13, 2013 - 7:57 pm

Agreed. But God knows that money isn’t just going to fall out of the sky.

Jeff March 14, 2013 - 8:40 am

And don’t forget all of the NIMBY’s who drive out there.

Someone March 14, 2013 - 11:39 am

Ah, who cares about the NIMBYs. Always complaining, never wanting jackshit.

Frank B March 14, 2013 - 6:21 pm

I’m from Bayside, and the only reason I don’t live there anymore is because it was murder to get to work; at least from where I am in Middle Village I can walk to the subway.

Believe me, the problem is letting the select few who live right by the ROW of where the transit would be built dictate that it should not be built for everyone directly around them who would benefit immensely from that right of way being used;

I’m explicitly talking about the old Long Island Motor Parkway; very few are using it for cycling; it should be converted for subway use throughout eastern Queens…

Someone March 14, 2013 - 7:56 pm

I also live in Middle Village, for similar reasons (I used to live in Manhattan. Don’t ask me why I moved from a neighbourhood, with multiple subway stops nearby, to one with hardly any coverage besides the M, R trains.) There should be new subway lines along the LIRR ROWs, specifically the Rockaway Beach Branch; the Main Line from 71 Avenue to 21 Street-Queensbridge; and along the Montauk Line in southeastern Queens.

Someone March 13, 2013 - 7:20 pm

The MTA is stupid. There, I said it.

It’s Brooklyn who should really get it last.

Spendmore Wastemore March 13, 2013 - 5:46 pm

BusTime is an improvement, but a better improvement would be to rationalize bus routes and traffic engineering.

For example, bus stops are often only 500 ft apart. With a 65 foot bus it’s hardly left one stop before it gets to the next. It’s hard to go when you’re always stopped.

Let’s assume you use a wheelchair: if you can get to the avenue for the bus, then to a stop that’s likely to be 750-1000 ft total. Another 125 or 250 ft is not significant, but it would cut the number of stops substantially.
Most buses should stop at not less than 750 or perhaps 1000′ ft intervals. That means walking/rolling up to 375 or 500 ft to meet the bus.

Frank B March 13, 2013 - 6:32 pm

I wholeheartedly agree.

Joseph Steindam March 13, 2013 - 9:27 pm

I’ve always wondered why bus stop spacing was so tight. Transportation planners and engineers often assume that riders will walk a 1/2 mile to a transit stop, over 5 times the typical stop spacing on a bus line. It’s hard to rationalize the two standards together. Slightly wider spacing, maybe up to 1000 ft will allow not only allow buses to stay at speed longer, but making fewer stops will speed up travel altogether. Maybe the stops might be longer due to picking up more passengers, but maybe the savings outweigh the longer dwell times at the remaining stations.

Andrew March 13, 2013 - 10:07 pm

Because the elderly have disproportionate political power in the U.S., and the elderly tend to favor shorter walks over faster trips. Transit agencies in the U.S. have great difficulty widening bus stop spacing, due to opposition from the elderly community.

On busier routes, the issue can be largely resolved by widening the spacing on some but not all of the buses while still maintaining a reasonable headway on each – local and limited buses, or we put the limited on steroids and call it SBS.

But that doesn’t help on lines that don’t have enough ridership to justify especially frequent service, and the elderly complain anyway, since their service isn’t as frequent as it was when everything ran local!

AG March 13, 2013 - 10:44 pm

do you have any elderly in your family? do you think it’s easy being old? somethings have nothing to do with “disproportionate political power”… some things are just plain being considerate. would you rather all the elderly trying to drive cars???

Andrew March 13, 2013 - 11:11 pm

Joseph asked a question and I answered it. I’m sorry if you don’t like my answer, but there’s a basic tradeoff when it comes to stop spacing, with close spacing improving access time but wide spacing improving running time. People with limited mobility tend to prefer close spacing, especially if they’re not under time pressure; fast walkers who have time constraints tend to prefer wider spacing. There’s no one correct answer to how stops should be spaced, since the answer depends on who you’re trying to serve. And if you’re trying to serve a variety of people, a compromise is often the best solution.

I’m not making a value judgment. I’m only explaining why U.S. transit agencies tend to have such short stop spacing. The elderly vote at higher rates than other segments of the population, so elected officials tend to weigh their concerns more heavily than the concerns of their younger constituents. When transit agencies try to widen their stop spacing to make their services more appealing to the bulk of their potential ridership, the elderly, and the elected officials who rely on their votes, object.

No, I don’t want the elderly to all drive cars – nor do I want the younger generations to drive cars because the bus is too slow.

I suggest you read the three articles that I linked to – Jarrett Walker explains the issues better than I can, and there are interesting discussions in the comments.

AG March 14, 2013 - 11:08 pm

you are correct that compromise is required… and if you’ve ever had a grandparent.. you know how important the bus system can be… and how difficult walk an extra block can be.

Bolwerk March 13, 2013 - 11:16 pm

Yeah, some things have nothing to do with it, but what Andrew is talking about has plenty to do with it. Actually it has plenty to do with a lot of our skewed and reactionary politics. If you’re under 35, you pretty much don’t count.

I would rather elderly-but-not-able-bodied take (if not drive) cars rather having able-bodied younger people drive them. Just as investing in transit is a logical expenditure for society as a hole, giving elderly people a taxi allowance or something is certainly a fair component of eldercare.

concerned March 14, 2013 - 3:54 pm

“giving elderly people a taxi allowance or something is certainly a fair component of eldercare.”

yeah – sure… except that is even more of an expense… and there are not enough taxis to meet that demand.

Bolwerk March 14, 2013 - 6:26 pm

Less of an expense than what? If they drive, they’re accident-prone. If they slow down transit the way Andrew describes, transit becomes way less useful for the rest of the population. It sure isn’t more expensive than paratransit. Yet they do need to get around.

And I don’t think it would be hard for the Free Market™ to allocate some more taxis if demand rose.

Bolwerk March 14, 2013 - 6:26 pm


Someone March 14, 2013 - 7:58 pm


concerned March 14, 2013 - 10:44 pm

providing taxis everywhere they want to go is surely more expensive than the bus system…. and would only increase traffic. I never suggested having them drive… you did. and the elderly make up a very important part of the population.

the “free market” is not involved in public transportation. public transport is supposed to work for everyone one… not only certain parts of the population.

Bolwerk March 14, 2013 - 11:35 pm

Surely? What happens if the bulk of the bus system’s potential users won’t use surface transit? Oh wait, that could be the situation we have now anyway. 32% farebox recovery? Maybe it’s better than nothing, but it’s hardly cheap.

Anyway, I did not say they should drive, though I suppose there isn’t much harm in the subset of elderly who can safely drive doing so. Nor did I say they should get a taxi for everywhere they want to go. I said they should probably get a taxi allowance, which certainly doesn’t preclude them from using other modes for certain trips. It complements rather than replaces the surface transit system.

Spendmore Wastemore March 13, 2013 - 11:32 pm

I can speak to that. I’m disabled and while my AARP card is recent, people 30 years older frequently pass me going up stairs. I would still rather walk farther to a bus that gets me somewhere with fewer stops, in part because the frequent stops themselves make me dizzy (I actually can’t use the bus for more than about 4 stops, meaning it’s useless). In part I favor moving the stops because the bus wastes time, fuel, wear and labor by stopping constantly.

But finally I oppose it because we need to keep the world moving for those who produce things, a group I was not long ago removed from. The more of their time and energy we waste, the less they can (and will) afford to keep paying Medicare etc for us who can no longer work.

AG March 14, 2013 - 11:06 pm

“But finally I oppose it because we need to keep the world moving for those who produce things, a group I was not long ago removed from. The more of their time and energy we waste, the less they can (and will) afford to keep paying Medicare etc for us who can no longer work.”

well by the same token if those old ppl didn’t do what they had to do – there would be no bus system and society to have nurtured the new workers to do what they are doing.
the percent of the elderly population in NYC is actually growing:


and commerce in the city is doing quite well in spite of the slow buses:


Bolwerk March 14, 2013 - 11:39 pm

Yes, commerce is doing well (meh, anyway) in spite of buses. Just like crime is going down in spite of heavy-handed police tactics and smoking is going down in spite of heavy cigarette taxes. Correlation is not causation.

Meanwhile, fixing the surface transit system is probably the lowest-hanging fruit there is for transport reform in New York City, at least cost-wise.

AG March 15, 2013 - 6:08 pm

no – my point about commerce was the assertion that the slow bus system is hampering economic activity. having to contend with cars is what really slows buses… not the frequency of stops – which in itself does help a significant and growing portion of the population

yeah – improving the system is great… but again improving for who? especially as the percentage of elderly is and will continue to grow:


Bolwerk March 16, 2013 - 3:32 pm

I can’t think of many better ways to hamper economic activity than to slow transportation, especially transit. Slower buses quite obviously wastes riders’ time, which means wasted person-hours that could be spent on other economic activities.

In any case, I seriously doubt the elderly will ever be a majority of transit users.

John-2 March 14, 2013 - 2:10 am

I really don’t think it’s that — the stops being so close together is an anachronism that really goes back to the 19th Century and the era of the horse-drawn onmibus. Back then the maximum speeds were slower and the populations were more crammed into areas closest to lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn and the closeness of the stops made more sense, and even were followed during the creation of the elevated lines, which also suffered from having stops too close together (something that even carried over to the IRT Contract 1 and 2 stations south of Grand Central, where 5-6 block gaps are the norm).

Just like rail widths on most U.S. systems are based in part on the wheel base width of Roman chariots, bus stops in New York are two blocks apart because that’s the way it’s always been done. They probably should re-think it, but given all of the city’s wonderful parking regulations and loading zone considerations, it wouldn’t be as easy as just taking out every other bus stop, or shifting the gap from two to every three blocks.

Bolwerk March 14, 2013 - 12:00 pm

I think that chariot story is a myth.

NYC’s practice of having buses pull out of the flow of traffic to pick up/alight passengers and then return to traffic is also doing it wrong. The buses should stop and let the cars behind them wait. I doubt it would ultimately even slow traffic down, though it would annoy people like Sharon, since I suspect often enough buses create minor traffic jams when they try to return to the flow of traffic against the wishes of idiotic/hostile drivers. In any case, the average street user would almost certainly even see his/her travel speed increased.

To make things more ADA-friendly, throw in bus bulbs. And hell, the upside to all that is there is actually a little more parking available for BrooklynBus to cheer.

Spendmore Wastemore March 14, 2013 - 5:55 pm

“I think that chariot story is a myth.”

Only in part. North American rail spacing comes from early British rail, which used the wheel spacing of horse-drawn carts, simply adapting the existing freight hauler to the newer rail roadway. A British horse-cart was about the same width as the Roman version for about the same reasons. In the end we’re stuck with 20 foot high freight teetering on 4’8″ wide tracks.

Frank B March 14, 2013 - 6:24 pm

It could be worse; we could be one of those sucker countries with narrow-gauge railroad…

Someone March 14, 2013 - 9:28 pm

Or worse… a country with two narrow gauges… 😉

Someone March 13, 2013 - 7:18 pm

Bye bye, uncharted buses.

carrynobanners March 14, 2013 - 5:22 am

On the frequent bus stop issue spendmore and John-2 are discussing, I never understood why express AND local buses run along a lot of the same routes ie SBS. And not every route needs their own bus lane. Cross town buses would/could benefit so much from express service

Someone March 14, 2013 - 7:49 am

But if you put SBS on the local busses, then that defeats the whole point of SBS, doesn’t it?

Bolwerk March 14, 2013 - 11:48 am

I’m not really clear what you think the point of SBS is. Most of its features can work on any bus service.

Well, the MTA doesn’t really seem to give it a coherent meaning either. A given SBS service involves a panoply of improvements, but maybe the only thing they all have in common is offboard fare collection – which is something that a bus should have whether it’s select or not.

Someone March 14, 2013 - 1:25 pm

The point of SBS is faster service.

Matthias March 15, 2013 - 12:53 pm

Fernando Ferrer? I thought Tom Prendergast was acting chairman.

Benjamin Kabak March 15, 2013 - 1:46 pm

Prendergast is acting Executive Director — meaning he’s in charge of day-to-day operations. Ferrer is the interim chairman of the MTA Board.

Abba September 1, 2013 - 2:13 am

It’s taking way too long for this project.do we really have to wait till every borough has it on every bus?? Install it route by route.No?


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