Home Buses BusTime makes its official Queens, Brooklyn debut

BusTime makes its official Queens, Brooklyn debut

by Benjamin Kabak
Looking for the B41? BusTime has you covered.

Looking for the B41? BusTime has you covered.

I’m a few days late posting this to the site (thought if you follow me on Twitter, you would have seen the news on Saturday, but BusTime is officially live in Brooklyn and Queens. With the weekend debut in the city’s two most populous boroughs, the MTA’s in-house real-time bus tracking system is now available on all MTA buses throughout the five boroughs.

While the service isn’t perfect as designed, knowing where every bus is certainly has its benefits and makes travel on an unreliable mode of transit far easier. “As we have seen with train arrival information in the subway,” Carmen Bianco, President of MTA New York City Transit, said, “customers appreciate when they know when that train or bus will show up at the station or stop.”

BusTime is available on the MTA’s website right here, and the information is accessible via mobile apps and a code-based text message service as well. Unfortunately, the limits of the in-house system mean that waiting times are displayed in distance rather than time. Allan Rosen at Sheepshead Bites seems to view this flaw as something close to a fatal one, but I’m a bit more forgiving.

It’s not ideal, and the concept of distance as time takes some trial and error. But two weeks ago, we had no idea where any buses in Brooklyn were, and today, I can pull up every route in the city from the comfort of my computer. Advocates, meanwhile, are continuing to press for countdown timers at major bus stops. It is, as with everything, a matter of funding.

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BrooklynBus March 11, 2014 - 3:15 pm

First of all, thanks for the link. I can understand the usefulness of three stops away or seeing the location of all buses on the route on a map. But please tell me what “3.7 miles away plus layover” means to the average rider? I have also seen “No buses enroute. Please check again later.” why would that message ever be displayed if the route is operating?

Perhaps you can clear up something for me regarding NextBus. They claim to have a proprietary algorithm to determine arrival times so no one else can provide arrival times in minutes. Is that correct? What if someone else develops their own algorithm, why would they have to pay NextBus or is that not the case? It seems like someone saying if they invented the automobile, anyone else who makes his own automobile still has to pay them royalties to drive one. What about Bus New York City that does provide expected arrival times in minutes? is NextBus trying to shut them down and under what grounds if they are not using the NextBus algorithm?

JebO March 11, 2014 - 3:48 pm

“‘No buses enroute. Please check again later.’ why would that message ever be displayed if the route is operating?”

It wouldn’t. That message would be displayed if the route is not operating, for example, mid-days for some express routes, overnights, weekends, etc.

sonicboy678 March 11, 2014 - 4:19 pm

It could also be a glitch, like with the ObamaCare rollout.

BrooklynBus March 11, 2014 - 6:19 pm

Obamacare was a pretty big glitch. Let’s hope if this was an MTA glitch it was nothing as big as Obamacare.

BrooklynBus March 11, 2014 - 6:17 pm

That was the message for the B1 around 11 PM last night when there were four buses on the route.

ajedrez March 12, 2014 - 1:48 pm

Not necessarily. It could mean that there’s actually no buses on the route at that particular moment. Say it’s overnight, and there’s only two buses on the route. If one bus is taking its layover and the other one was late leaving the depot, or taken out of service, then there would be no buses en route at that moment.

Kevin March 11, 2014 - 5:41 pm

NextBus appears to take into account past data in terms of how long it takes for the buses to get from one location to another. This can be used to “predict” the time arrivals based on past data.

Since their algorithm of calculating that is proprietary, it doesn’t mean someone else can’t come up with another solution to do the same thing. Its like a secret recipe they have, it doesn’t really stop anyone from coming up with a similar recipe.

Bus New York City probably uses the same idea, but has their own implementation of how they would calculate arrival times.

As a developer myself, its not all that hard to get a basic idea of how long it would take for a bus to arrive. All you have to do is calculate the time it took to get from one stop to another, and calculate the average speed. Once you have the average speed, you can use this to calculate a time. This is basic physics, and you can’t “patent” this basic information.

Larry Littlefield March 11, 2014 - 5:42 pm

I think the travel times are much more variable for a bus in mixed traffic than for the subway.

Kevin March 11, 2014 - 7:37 pm

Definitely, this is probably where the past data comes in handy. Obviously you can’t account for incidents like an accident or anything like that, but traffic is rather predictable, rush hour is when there usually is a high volume of traffic, so you would artificially increase the wait times to the user.

D. Graham March 11, 2014 - 8:50 pm

This is where they should let Google help them out. Google has a great trade secret algorithm set up for their navigation feature in the Maps application. Estimated time travel is based on a wide variety of factors including time of day and history combined as well as many other factors I’m not thinking of at the moment. Google would probably help the MTA out for free as it did with a separate trip planner once in the past.

LLQBTT March 13, 2014 - 1:25 pm

Ha! That’ll be the day when the MTA let’s go of their protectionist ways and lets Google in the door!

BrooklynBus March 11, 2014 - 6:20 pm


John12 March 11, 2014 - 3:40 pm

BusTime was absolutely crap yesterday especially in Brooklyn and Queens. Lots of missing buses that doesnt show up on Bustime website. Like B42… no buses on BusTime yet there were plenty of buses along Rockaway Parkway in the afternoon. Im surprise none of the media pick the problems on Bustime.

A shoddy debut.

Michael March 11, 2014 - 10:47 pm

Quoted Text:

“No buses enroute. Please check again later.”


There are plenty of times when the GPS device on a particular bus is not operating or has been turned off. Thus a particular bus can be “in service” picking up riders, but simply not be able to be seen by the Bus-Time system. Also some bus routes may not have frequent service, making it difficult to determine just where is the next “in service” bus for that particular route at that time. Not frequent buses are regular on Staten Island, I’ve seen that message several times. The bus will probably follow its schedule, often later showing up on Bus-Time, even if the schedule is not frequent.

There have been times, when Bus-Time said the next bus was miles away, and the next bus has just turned the corner. There have also been times on SI, where Bus-Time showed a bus to be moving down the road coming to your stop, but in actually there’s no bus that is in service with passengers that actually either stops or drives by, where further checking of Bus-Time shows that the next bus is miles away.

So basically, there are plenty of times when Bus-Time works, one can predict when the bus will arrive, the bus actually arrives and all is well. There are other times, but not often – depends upon the route, when Bus-Time says that no buses are running – and there’s your bus coming down the road. Then there times – not often – where Bus-Time says there’s a bus coming, but there is not.

Personally, I like when Bus-Time works properly, the buses arrive, etc.

Ed March 12, 2014 - 5:49 am

No I do not buy at all

LLQBTT March 13, 2014 - 1:30 pm

This is all fine for those iPhone and other high end smart phone toting riders, but I thought that the bus riding demographic tends not to carry these doo-dads and going through the clunky process of finding, scanning and texting a code at a bus stop from a dumb phone is most cumbersome. Or more simply said, I can see buses on my smartphone map, i.e.a picture is worth a thousand words.

So the ultimate benefit is for just a few.

Michael March 14, 2014 - 1:02 pm

Plenty of bus riders, like myself, do not have or use “iPhone and other high end smart phones” but rather simple basic cell phones with texting ability, something that the majority of phone had have for years.

For folks that travel a regular set of buses to a few places, it is simple to get the text-number of the Bus-Time system for your borough. Once at your local bus stop – look at the bus schedule which shows the Bus-Time number for that bus stop. All one has to do is send a simple text message to Bus-Time with only the Bus-stop number, and Bus-Time will respond and show how far away are all of the buses that stop at that bus-stop. Yes, it is that simple!

Building a small listing on your simple basic cell phone of the bus-stop numbers that are normally visited is not difficult at all. On many cell phones, one can store phrases of text, in this case just store the bus-stop numbers, and recall them when needed. And if you’re at a bus that is not usually traveled to, the bus schedule will show the Bus-Time number to be used.

Using Bus-Time while in the field does not require a huge amount of computing power or resources. While using text-messages with Bus-Time does not provide a “constantly updated map showing all buses” – simply knowing that the buses that serves your bus stop at that moment are 0.5, 1.4, or 5.9 miles away is still useful information.

The text-message feature of Bus-Time uses capabilities that exist on the most basic of cell phones, making it useful to the many.


jspech March 20, 2014 - 11:35 am

Just downloaded app, yesterday. love it & w/ a stop across the street from me, love it even more. I guess people gotta complain, but does anything gets a chance to have their kinks worked out before we go nuts.


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