MTA Bus Time

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The Bus Time smartphone interface during its Manhattan launch on October 7, 2013
The Bus Time console installed in a bus behind the driver's seat

MTA Bus Time, stylized as BusTime, is a Service Interface for Real Time Information, automatic vehicle location (AVL), and passenger information system provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) of New York City for customers of its bus operations under the New York City Bus and MTA Bus Company brands. First tested in late 2010 and officially launched in early 2011, MTA Bus Time was installed in all MTA bus routes in New York City by 2014.

The software uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology equipped in buses to relay real-time location information to passengers via internet-enabled devices (particularly smartphones), SMS messages, or countdown clocks installed at bus stops. Since 1996, the MTA had tried to install positioning technology for buses through numerous pilot programs, which were implemented in various stages.

Usage and software[edit]

MTA Bus Time allows riders to track the location of buses along a route. On computer browsers, the service uses Google Maps to display bus routes and the position of buses along routes, by typing in a route (e.g. Q22) or intersection into the search box. It will also give the distance (in number of stops or miles) and approximate time away from the next stop for each bus. For web-enabled mobile devices, typing in a route will display the list of stops along the route and the position of buses along it. Typing in an intersection will give a list of buses operating to that stop and the approximate time for the next bus to reach the stop.[1][2] Intersection information can also be found by scanning the QR code for a stop, or texting the stop's numerical code to receive information via SMS; both codes are found on the Guide-A-Ride box affixed to bus stop signage.[1][2][3] Bus Time is also integrated into countdown clocks installed at several bus stops throughout the city, displaying how many stops away the next bus is, to serve riders without internet devices or mobile phones.[1][2]

The current Bus Time system uses on-board GPS and wireless communication units, at the cost of about $20,000 per vehicle. For most buses, the console is equipped behind the driver's seat.[4][5][6] The hardware is provided by two companies, Verifone and Cubic Transportation Systems, with GPS devices supplied by Trimble Navigation, and open source software called OneBusAway. The Verifone system is the successor to a pilot "Smart Card" payment system developed along with MasterCard. Cambridge Systematics was also involved in the development. The MTA uses the same servers as[4][7][8] The technology is similar to the technology used for countdown clocks found in the New York City Subway system (called Subway Time).[9]

Bus Time is also used by the MTA to create performance reports for bus routes, and by bus dispatchers and managers to monitor and improve service. This technology is called Bus Trek.[10][11][12]


A Select Bus Service wayfinding countdown clock, part of WalkNYC, during the debut of the M86 SBS in 2015

The mass transit system of New York City did not have any sort of arrival-time information system prior to the installation of the first subway and bus countdown clocks in the 2000s. Many other major cities (such as London, Paris, and Washington, D.C.) had used the technology for many years; several American cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon, have also had bus-tracking systems prior to MTA implementation.[13][14][15]

In 1979, the MTA tested a radio-based monitoring system on the buses from the Queens Village Depot, called the "Radio-Data-Locator System" and designed by Motorola. The buses automatically communicated their location to the East New York Bus Command Center in East New York, Brooklyn, every 90 seconds. The system was used to improve bus performance and prevent bus bunching, but was not accessible to the public.[16]

In 1996, the MTA's New York City Transit Authority (NYCT) contracted Orbital Sciences Corporation to design a bus-arrival monitoring system, planned to be installed on 170 city buses by 1998. The routes on which it would be implemented were the M15, M31, M35, M57, M66 and M116, which operated out of the 126th Street Depot in Manhattan.[17][18][19] In 1997, the MTA awarded a second contract to Orbital to install a tracking system on the Long Island Bus system (now the independent Nassau Inter-County Express).[18] An additional contract was awarded in 1999 for the MTA's Access-A-Ride paratransit service.[20] The system would have included countdown clocks and interactive kiosks at stops, and recorded "next stop" announcements on buses (similar to that of modern subway cars and the still-used Clever Devices system used on the ex-MTA Long Island Bus/NICE Bus units). NYCT Buses would be monitored at the East New York Depot control center, and Long Island buses at a command center in Garden City.[17][18] After four years, the company had missed most of its deadlines. The technology, meanwhile, was faulty because the skyscrapers in Manhattan blocked signals and the dead reckoning system had failed.[17][19] The NYCT contract was terminated by the MTA in 2000.[21][17]

In 1999, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) planned to launch a tracking and countdown clock program on the Q60 route (then privately operated under a DOT subsidy by Green Bus Lines) along Queens Boulevard. The DOT planned to put it in operation by 2002.[22][23] In summer 2005, a $13 million contract was awarded by the MTA to Siemens for a pilot countdown clock program at fifteen stops along the same six bus routes in Manhattan of the previous NYCT program.[21][24] This project also experienced delays, with the first countdown clocks operational by October 2007.[25] After issues with arrival time accuracy, the clocks were shut down in February 2008, and MTA pulled out of the program in early 2009.[21][25]

In August 2009, countdown clocks were installed at eight stops for the M34 and M16 crosstown buses along 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan. These clocks were installed at the top of the Cemusa bus shelters at the stops by Long Island-based Clever Devices, which provided the GPS equipment free of charge.[13] The clocks were praised by The New York Times as a "Miracle on 34th Street," a play on the famous film of the same name.[15] Around this time, many new Orion VII NG buses delivered to the MTA were equipped with AVL consoles built by Clever Devices.[26][27] On October 14, 2010, the first version of the Bus Time web service, also developed by Clever Devices, was launched along the route using the same GPS system.[28][29][30] Following the transition of the two routes into the M34 and M34A Select Bus Service in late 2011, the countdown clocks were removed by the contractor in April 2012, and were replaced with the current Bus Time system.[21][31]

The pilot route for the most recent iteration of MTA Bus Time was the B63 in Brooklyn, where thirty buses were equipped with the technology in February 2011.[7][32][33] By January 2012, every local and express bus in Staten Island was equipped with the system.[6][7][32] The M34/M34A SBS began using the system on April 6, 2012,[30] with nearly every Bronx bus route using the system by the end of 2012.[10] All five boroughs of the city used the system by March 2014, and a mobile app was released in 2015.[11][34]


  1. ^ a b c Whitford, Emma (July 1, 2015). "Bus Countdown Clocks Coming To Every Borough, Eventually". Gothamist. Archived from the original on August 11, 2015. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Harshbarger, Rebecca (July 14, 2015). "Select Bus Line starts running on 86th Street in Manhattan". AM New York. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  3. ^ See:
  4. ^ a b "Cubic Transportation Systems Adds Winning Technology Innovation to MTA Bus Time(R) for ITS-New York Project of the Year". Global Newswire. June 16, 2014. Retrieved September 29, 2015.
  5. ^ See:
  6. ^ a b Barone, Vincent (December 17, 2014). "Staten Island to receive additional electronic, real-time bus signage". Staten Island Advance. Staten Island, New York. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c "Introducing MTA Bus Time". YouTube. Metropolitan Transportation Authority. January 11, 2012. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  8. ^ "MTA Bus Time Technology". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  9. ^ "New Interior Electronic Strip Maps Coming to Subway Cars on 2 5 Lines". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. February 12, 2016. Retrieved February 12, 2016.
  10. ^ a b "MTA Bus Time Implementation & New Applications" (PDF). American Public Transportation Association, Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 9, 2015. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  11. ^ a b "MTA Real-Time Bus Tracking Arriving in Brooklyn and Queens in March". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. February 24, 2014. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  12. ^ "Transit & Bus Committee Meeting January 2013" (PDF). Metropolitan Transportation Authority. January 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 31, 2013. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  13. ^ a b Grynbaum, Michael M. (March 7, 2010). "Experimental Clocks Tell Straphangers if the Wait May Soon Be Over". The New York Times. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  14. ^ "Does Knowing Count? Comparing Urban Bus Tracking Systems and Ridership". WNET. March 28, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  15. ^ a b See:
  16. ^ See:
  17. ^ a b c d Kennedy, Randy (March 15, 2000). "Out of Touch In the City's Canyons; Satellites Become Blind Eyes in the Sky Trying to Spot and Track Buses". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  18. ^ a b c "Orbital Wins $4 Million Contract From New York MTA for Satellite Tracking Of Transit Bus Fleet: Company Wins Second Contract in New York City Area". Dulles, Virginia: PR Newswire. October 2, 1997. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  19. ^ a b Campantile, Carl (October 26, 1999). "Problems 'building' for Satellite Bus-track Plan". New York Post. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  20. ^ Campanile, Carl (September 8, 1999). "TA Looks Skyward to Speed Vans & Buses". New York Post. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  21. ^ a b c d Donohue, Pete (December 10, 2012). "MTA has given up on bus countdown clocks in favor of Bus Time program". Daily News. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  22. ^ Campanile, Carl (June 15, 1999). "TaA's in Orbit Over Its New Bus-tracker System". New York Post. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  23. ^ Topousis, Tom (November 15, 2000). "City's Dot to Train Eye in Sky on Buses". New York Post. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  24. ^ Chan, Sewell (June 28, 2005). "Metro Briefing New York: Manhattan: M.T.A. Approves Bus Experiment". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  25. ^ a b Coleman, Amanda; Donohue, Pete (February 2, 2008). "Bus arrival-time boards shut down". Daily News (New York). Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  26. ^ "MTA NYC Transit Bus Arrival Info Here Now on 34th Street Crosstown". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. January 14, 2013. Retrieved March 11, 2016.
  27. ^ "Bus Company Committee Meeting January 2010" (PDF). Metropolitan Transportation Authority. January 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 18, 2010. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  28. ^ "New York City Transit: History and Chronology". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on January 8, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2007.
  29. ^ Magee, Kelly (October 15, 2010). "Bus here yet? Check your phone". New York Post. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  30. ^ a b "MTA Bus Time® to Debut Sunday on the M34/M34A SBS Crosstown". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. April 6, 2012. Archived from the original on April 10, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  31. ^ Bernstein, Andrea (April 9, 2012). "The Actual Story – The MTA Removes Countdown Clocks on the Crosstown Line". WNYC. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  32. ^ a b Sedon, Michael (January 11, 2012). "New service will tell Staten Island commuters where their bus is". Staten Island Advance. Staten Island, New York. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  33. ^ "MTA BusTime Offers Real-Time Bus Location Information for B63 Customers: Information Available Online, by Text Message and on Your Smartphone; MTA BusTime Coming to Staten Island Next" (PDF). Metropolitan Transportation Authority. February 1, 2011. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  34. ^ Whitford, Emma (June 5, 2015). "MTA's Bus Tracker Is Now Available As An App". Gothamist. Archived from the original on November 13, 2015. Retrieved November 9, 2015.

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