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New feature on MYmta app aims to help bus riders social distance on their commutes

New technology on buses will give riders a sense of how cramped conditions are aboard, and help them social distance. (MYmta app)

If you ride the M15 or other Select Buses throughout the city, you may be able to open the MYmta app to not only check the bus status but also decide if you want to board at all.

Sensors above on up to 40% of buses can tell the difference between a person or an inanimate object and will tally the number of people aboard buses in real time, according to the MTA, which will help keep riders safe as New York avoids another wave of COVID-19.

“This is the first wide-scale deployment of real-time passenger counts on buses in the country. The count data from this sensor-based technology is transmitted via a cellular device on the buses that wirelessly communicates to an off-board server that, like MYmta, actually use to get passenger data on our buses,” Chief Officer of Bus Technology¬†Sunil Nair said. “The system was designed, integrated, tested, and deployed by in-house staff.”

Infrared beams are used above doorways to detect customers as the board or disembark, and the technology can recognize the contours of whatever passes beneath it to determine if it actually a person, a child, or something else such as a bag or a stroller. It allows for the MTA to get an accurate count which was put on display at a Tuesday press conference at the corner of 14th Street and 1st Avenue.

This announcement comes on the eve of the MTA’s monthly board meeting in which they are expected to detail not only cutbacks in service but a growing deficit. At the June meeting, $10 billion was the shortfall transit leaders were expecting; now, $16 billion may be more like it considering the financial as well as the human cost of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agency.

“Every new bus that’s delivered in the capital program will come with the technology on board to provide this on the app. Furthermore, we have an internal program, we’re adding passenger counters as we move ahead,” MTA Bus Company President Craig Cipriano said. “The MTA’s finances are very precarious… We are looking for money from the federal government and there is a month-to-month multibillion-dollar budget gap. To the extent that that impacts this and other programs, we’ll make further announcements.”

The sensor technology has been slated for buses that are model 2018 or newer and Nair says they are currently retrofitting older buses. 

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