Solving Cities

New Yorkers can now track buses in real time

New Yorkers can now track buses in real time

Posting in Cities

New York's bus services took a major step forward with the launch of their real-time bus tracking technology.

One of the most frustrating aspects about riding the bus is the uncertainty you feel while you're waiting at the bus stop. Is the bus 30 minutes away or around the block?

This week, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority took the guesswork out of riding the bus with the launch of its real-time bus tracking service, MTA Bus Time.

Passengers can find out the exact location of their bus with an online tool, a mobile app, or a text message. MTA explains how the tracking system works:

Bus Time will use accurate location data provided by an enhanced Global Positioning Device mounted inside each bus. That information will be integrated with the bus operator login information (including the route, run and destination sign code) and will then be transmitted wirelessly to a Bus Time server using onboard cellular equipment. This server will integrate location and login information with schedules and map files to output real time “next bus information” to the customers.

OpenPlans Transportation, in partnership with Cambridge Systematics, was chosen to implement the system. And because it's open source, third-party developers can build their own apps using the real-time bus data.

MTA is launching the service on Staten Island, a logical starting place since the borough lacks a subway system. But MTA says they will soon begin deployment of the technology to depots in the other boroughs. Over the next year, more than 6,000 buses and 14,000 bus stops will be upgraded with the technology, and it will be city-wide by the end of 2013.

Because transit works best when it's predictable, this is a major step forward for New York's bus system. Check it out for yourself.

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure