Real-Time Bus Info: There’s Always Next Year

bus_display.jpgTime and temp? Check. Next bus? Still unknown.
Photo: City Room.
On Wednesday, the Daily News reported that Dov Hikind, State Assemblyman representing Borough Park, called the MTA "the worst agency" in the run-up to a fare hike hearing in Brooklyn. Shame on Dov for not shouldering any responsibility for adequately funding our transit system. But there wouldn't be such a receptive audience for his blame-deflecting ways if we had fewer stories like this: The MTA is aborting its latest plan for a real-time bus tracking system, reports NY1.

It's the second time the MTA has thrown in the towel on a tracking system. Back in 1996, a similar project failed, in part because satellite signals were lost in the skyscraper canyons of Manhattan -- just one of many issues, the MTA says, that makes it difficult to predict arrival times.

"It's not just the urban canyons, but the schedules, the tight schedules, the headways, the traffic. The operating environment I think is the most challenging of any city's," said Sassan Davoodi, Co-Project Manager, NYC Transit.

Real-time information would be a godsend for bus riders whose trips are all too unpredictable. London has it. Hamburg has it. Paris and Bogota have it. Why has it taken the MTA twelve years and counting to deliver this technology to New York? In prepared testimony to the City Council [PDF], the MTA's Robert Walsh described the timeline. The original 1996 project, which failed to produce "a reliable and working system," was not terminated until 2001. Four years later, in August 2005, the MTA awarded the second contract, which has now been scrapped.

On to the next candidate, Walsh said: "At this juncture, we are aggressively investigating and evaluating options that we believe may have the potential to meet the needs of our bus system."

Will the third time be the charm? After this latest setback, maybe the way to go here is to ditch the satellite GPS approach in favor of peer-to-peer networked sensors. That, or let the open source hive mind have a go at the problem.