MTA’s Bus Time program arrives in Manhattan

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The Metropolitan Transit Authority expanded its Bus Time program to Manhattan on Oct. 7, informing commuters about bus schedules depending on their borough and taking the stress and uncertainty of waiting for a bus out of the equation.

The program, which is also available in the Bronx and Staten Island, is expected to expand to Brooklyn and Queens by April 2014, according to the MTA. Bus Time is available through three mediums — users can request information through text messages to the Bus Time number, check the Bus Time website or scan quick response codes posted at each bus stop with a smartphone. The variety of options opens the door for anyone to receive information, regardless of whether they have a smartphone or not.

“The goal is to make [Bus Time] useable for all customers,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said. “It makes waiting for the bus easier and helps reduce or eliminate the need to spend a lot of time waiting for the bus.”

Sarah Kaufman, a research assistant at the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation and a previous employee of the MTA, said the trouble with Bus Time is the “digital divide,” or the split between those who have cell phones and those who have smartphones.

“While it’s fair to say that most bus riders have cell phones and can use this system, some people may not wish to incur the data costs of the text messages or the web lookup from their cell phone carriers,” Kaufman said.

However, the alternative to Bus Time would have been countdown clocks, similar to those in the subway system.

“[Countdown clocks] would cost millions of dollars to deploy at the city’s 14,000 bus stops,” Kaufman said. “That cost would be reflected in the fare box, so riders are better with opt-in information systems.”

Although this convenience is new in Manhattan, Kaufman said she is not convinced the program will affect the number of people who ride the bus.

“The buses in Manhattan may not see the ridership increase as on Staten Island because the buses in Manhattan are some of the slowest in the country, due to traffic congestion,” she said.

Dehidanin Cuevas, a Steinhardt junior and Queens resident, said she will use Bus Time when it expands to Queens.

“I think [Bus Time] will be a wonderful tool considering Queens is large,” Cuevas said. “And the bus transit system can be very confusing.”

For many commuters, the app will allow them to follow a clear schedule.

“[Bus Time will] take the wondering out of waiting,” Donovan said.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 10 print edition. Ann Schmidt is a contributing writer. Email her at news@nyunews.com. 

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