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Select Bus Lines to feature new Customer Information System

Mark Groce: I'm Mark Groce and you're listening to an In the News podcast on TransitTrax, New York City Transit's podcast service.

There's a new sound riders along 34th Street in Midtown are hearing, the sound of progress.

((SOUND: “M34, East side, FDR Drive, Crosstown..."))

No, you're not hearing things. Thirty Hybrid-Electric buses that run on the M34 and M16 routes are equipped with a new customer information system that provides both clear audio to customers on board and exact arrival time information at select bus stops along the corridor. The system was unveiled recently by top brass from the MTA, New York City Transit, the City's Department of Transportation, and the Mayor, who said it might help answer some burning commuter questions.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg: How does my hair look? Should I have brought an umbrella, and where's the next bus anyways? Well we can't help you with the first two questions but we certain can do something about the third question.

Mark Groce: According to the Mayor, this is the type of technology the city needs to provide to transit riders, just as other world-class cities already do.

Mayor Bloomberg: And starting today that's exactly what we are going to do for riders of the M34 and M16 lines, because on these lines we’re about to make good on one of the goals of our sustainability agenda PlanNYC. We will inaugurate the city's first real time arrival information for bus riders. At eight shelters, we will provide riders with a current time and temperature, and most importantly, the regularly updated estimated time of arrival of the next bus.

Mark Groce: This is not the first time New York City Transit has attempted to provide real time bus arrival information to customers. Past efforts concentrated on managing service by helping command center staff keep track of buses. Those efforts failed. While there are some similar elements in this pilot, the focus of the demonstration project is different. General Superintendent Bob Walsh, from the Department of Buses at New York City Transit is one of the project managers for the pilot demonstration.

Bob Walsh, NYC Transit Department of Buses: We've based it this time on the customer information format. We're not pushing so much the AVL at this point, the CAD AVL, which is where the command center will control what‘s going on. What we are doing here is just providing to the public the announcements, providing to them at the bus stop shelters, when the bus is coming. We’ll also eventually look at websites that a customer would be able to access at some time in the future where they can see where their bus is and what time it’s actually real-time predicted to be there.

Mark Groce: Even on a congested corridor like 34th Street.

Bob Walsh: On 34th Street you have the M16 and you have the M34. It differentiates between both of them, how long before each bus comes. When the operator opens the door, you are going to hear the announcement, ‘M16 Waterside Plaza.’ If anybody has difficulty seeing the sign, this is a big plus, because they’ll be able to hear which bus it is they’re stepping onto. And then when they’re on the bus you'll not only hear announcements played at every stop for transfer points or points of interest, you'll also see it on a scroll. So there should be no reason for anybody to not know what bus they’re on, and where they’re going, and what stops they are at.

Mark Groce: The technology being used is cutting edge, according to Clever Devices, the manufacturer of the Intelligent Vehicle Network or IVN system. William Long is President of the Plainview, Long Island based company, which is providing the equipment free of charge.

WIlliam Long, President, Clever Devices: It works using a combination of sensors to determine the position of the vehicle, GPS is one of them. It's this combination of sensors that we call Perfect Nav that work in these congested corridors as you see here on 34th Street. So the fundamental is that the bus knows exactly where it is.

Mark Groce: Clever Devices was chosen for this pilot because its IVN system is already installed on more than 450 of Transit's Hybrid Electric buses to automatically manage the active exhaust regeneration cycle used to meet EPA emissions mandates. Interestingly enough, the "Smart Bus" technology that's been added as part of the pilot program was originally designed to provide location announcements to the blind and visually impaired.

William Long: That application required that our system be zero-fault tolerant. Obviously we don't want to make a wrong announcement. And it was those fundamentals that were the requirements for zero-fault tolerance that enabled us to do things like predicted arrival times.

Mark Groce: 34th Street was chosen for the pilot because it has dedicated bus lanes, and signal prioritization at the intersection of 7th Avenue, and is one of the city's Select Bus Corridors. Customers we spoke with think it's an idea long in coming.

John Weissman, Bus Rider: It's just going to make you feel more relaxed when you know it's coming, you know more relaxed.

Karen Kolbrecht, Bus Rider: I think it's terrific. We live in an information age so it’s really very relevant, very useful for people. Often you stand here and wonder, when will the bus come; you get so full of anxiety wondering whether you should walk or wait for the bus. It's a great improvement, we're lucky to have it.

Mark Groce: DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan agrees, and is hopeful that if successful this pilot can be expanded to other corridors.

Janette Sadik-Khan, DOT Commissioner: For New Yorkers it is all about time. You know, time is basically a commodity, and nobody really has enough time. So if we can make it easier for people to know if a bus is coming in 10 minutes, they got time to get a cup of coffee, to get a newspaper, to drop off a movie, that's exactly what we want to do. So one of the things that we want to do, we’re going to test this out, see if this works. The initial results are promising, we're very excited about the fact that that it worked right off the bat and Clever Devices has provided this equipment to the city for free. So we're looking to test that, see if it works and if we know that it works, then yeah, I’d look to dramatically expand that on the streets of New York.

Mark Groce: Some are calling the pilot "a miracle on 34th Street.” That's catchy. For riders, it's really progress in motion.

For TransitTrax, I'm Mark Groce. Thanks for listening, and thanks for riding with New York City Transit.