Trying Out Bus Time

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Some 757 buses in Staten Island will now tell you where they are.   The NY MTA has installed GPS devices in the buses, at a cost of $7 million, and after what it says are 6 years of development.

The MTA says there are three ways to use Bus Time: Click it. Text it. Scan it. I went to three bus stops in Staten Island to try it.

(Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro says he's concerned about seniors without mobile phones, so he's kicking in some $200,000 to add countdown-clock like displays at bus stops.)

The MTA's instructions say, "From a desktop or a smartphone, customers can enter the bus route, intersection or bus stop code and get a map showing where the buses are along the route and how close the next bus." In my test, doing those three things got me an accurate and comprehensive list of local and express buses that use the nearest stop.

And a nifty map popped up on my laptop showing the location of those buses as they came toward me. But not so when I used my phone. No map appeared, and I couldn't see a way to bring one up.

Using my phone to text an intersection, address or bus stop code to 511123 also brought me a list of buses and how far away they were: 0.7 miles, 1.5 miles, etc. It did not say how many minutes it would take for each to arrive. It's up to riders to judge the speed of an approaching bus based on traffic and time of day.

I wanted to see how clearly the numerical bus codes were displayed at stops but couldn't do that because the MTA says it will take another several weeks to install all of them in Staten Island. For now, riders must go to to find the code they need or text the nearest intersection to 511123 to have it sent to them. Then text the number for real time bus information.

Also missing are QR (Quick Response) codes at the bus stops. The MTA says riders will be able to use a scanner app on a smart phone to read a QR code displayed at a bus stop and get the same information as if they'd texted or gone online for it. It will be six weeks, though, before they're installed.
Editor's Note from Andrea Bernstein:  I've been using the B-63 pilot test for almost a year.  The best thing about it is that the information is spot-on accurate (though it's sometimes hard to guage what "3 stops away means."  At low traffic times, that can be about a minute and a half, which is often faster than I could get to the stop.)
Once, I distressingly got the signal "no service available" for about an hour.  That also was true.
It's particularly helpful for travel at low times -- you can stay in your house or wherever you are until just before the bus is coming, which makes riding much more pleasant.
The most frustrating thing about the system was memorizing the stop codes -- the new system promises to help you locate the stop code by intersection, much better, though the B-63 version still has some kinks.  The MTA says it will fix those this week.