'Where's my bus?!?" is now a question you can answer yourself in Manhattan as the MTA Monday introduced real-time tracking to the borough's fleet.
The nearly 490,000 people who use Manhattan buses on an average weekday can now keep tabs of them by using MTA Bus Time, a pilot program that started on the B63 route in Brooklyn and was introduced to Staten Island and Bronx buses last year.
"A customer waiting for the bus can find out where their bus is at that precise moment," said Tony Laidig, the lead engineer on MTA Bus Time.
The service locates a bus and shows the number of stops until it reaches a rider. The expansion now covers all of Manhattan's 36 routes and 1,800 bus stops; M34 buses had been part of the initial Bus Time pilot. Altogether, the latest GPS technology has been installed on 2,852 buses in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, at a cost of about $5,000 per bus. The MTA says every New York City bus will be trackable within the next six months.
"We have gone from 30 buses to just under a thousand buses to 2,000 buses and now we are currently on 3,000 buses," Laidig said. "The installation for Brooklyn and Queens is happening constantly at this moment."
While real-time bus tracking may sound like a technological luxury, the MTA will make use of the data to prevent the bunching of buses along routes, according to Sean Fitzpatrick, director of bus technology deployment at the MTA. He added that the MTA is developing a way to incorporate the information into its On-Time Performance data.
Bus Time can be accessed on the web at bustime.mta.info, which is designed for smartphone viewing or by computers; by text message; and by scanning a QR code on schedules posted at bus stops, though there are some that need to be updated because of Superstorm Sandy and other winter storms. Riders can also download apps from independent developers that get the MTA's bus location data.
Laidig said that the pilot routes using Bus Time saw a "very small but statistically significant increase" in ridership, though he said data from the Bronx and Manhattan buses will determine whether there is a "noticeable bump." An MTA spokesman confirmed that there was an increase on the M34 route amid service improvements and the Staten Island express buses seemed to attract more riders after Bus Time was installed.
Riders welcomed the ability to keep tabs on their bus while planning their trip.
Stapleton resident Irene Pough, 47, a mother of a 3-year-old daughter, said the technology would be useful in Staten Island, where bus service can be unreliable.
"In Staten Island, I've waited for an hour for the bus," Pough said while riding the M20 route. "You shouldn't have to wait an hour for a city bus."
Vincent Hodge, a 51-year-old Mott Haven resident, prefers a car to a bus while in the Bronx, but said he would use Bus Time while in Manhattan, where he works as a court messenger.
"Sometimes I walk to the next stop, waiting for the bus. But before I get to the next stop, the bus flies by," Hodge said. "This will help me. Now I don't have to wait in the rain."
And happier bus customers make for happier bus drivers, Laidig noted.
"To them," he said, "it seems like there is a marked effect on people getting calmer when they get on the bus."