MTA installs countdown clocks at N,Q,R subway stations

Countdown clocks are coming to lettered subway lines as part of a limited MTA pilot.

New LCD screen clocks will begin operation Thursday at eight stations along the N, Q and R lines as part of a 90-day test period, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The governor also announced Thursday that the MTA had awarded three contracts to retrofit 131 buses with digital display screens, which will provide audio and visual service and stop information.

“These actions are the latest steps toward rebuilding and transforming the MTA into a unified, state-of-the-art transportation network that will meet the needs of current and future generations of New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement. “With this new and updated technology, we’ll help ensure riders have the information they need to get where they need to go.”

Clocks will be going live at the 23rd Street; 28th Street; 34th Street; 42nd Street; 49th Street; 57th Street; 5th Avenue/59th Street; and Lexington Avenue —59th Street subway stops.

Currently, there are 176 stations along the L train and numbered lines, or the A division, that feature countdown clocks, according to the MTA. Until now, the MTA could only identify the exact location of numbered lines because those trains are equipped with a digital computing system known as Automatic Train Supervision, or ATS.

The L train, part of the B division, uses a similar technology called Communication Based Train Control, or CBC.

The MTA is in the process of installing similar tech, called Integrated Service Information and Management, on lettered lines, but won’t finish that work until 2021, according to MTA Spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

To hasten the installation of countdown clocks along lettered lines, the new technology being tried out will involve Bluetooth receivers and cloud computing.

Four Bluetooth receivers will placed in each station—two at each end of the platform. Four beacons will be placed in the front and backs of each train. As the train enters and leaves a station, the system uses its arrival and departure time to estimate the time at which the train will reach the next stop in the line.

“Governor Cuomo challenged the MTA to develop an aggressive approach to putting countdown clocks on the lettered lines, and our technology team’s response has been phenomenal,” said MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast in a statement. “In very short order they developed an easy to deploy, cost-effective system that we think will play a central role in bringing this essential service to more and more of our customers.”

There is no official timeframe for a broader rollout of countdown clocks, which have been in use on the L line since 2007, numbered lines since 2010 and are commonplace in subways around the world.

Bus display screen pilots will come to the M15, B46 and S79 Select Bus Service routes. Beginning in 2017, display screens will come standard all new MTA buses. That means over the course of the next five years, more than 2,000 buses—about half the MTA’s fleet—will feature the screens.

The digital screens on subways and buses are part of the MTA’s $27 billion capital plan.

“The real time information makes planning trips so much easier,” said board member Andrew Albert. “It puts the rider back in control of their trip, which is great.”