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Transportation Advocates Call for Clocks to Show When Buses Will Arrive

By Dana Varinsky | February 23, 2014 4:37pm
 John Raskin of the Riders Alliance urges the city to allocate funding for bus countdown clocks. Next to him, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer shows her support.
John Raskin of the Riders Alliance urges the city to allocate funding for bus countdown clocks. Next to him, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer shows her support.
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DNAinfo/Dana Varinsky

CIVIC CENTER — Transportation advocates gathered at a bus stop near City Hall Sunday afternoon, calling on city officials to fund countdown clocks that would let riders know when a bus is due to arrive. 

The Department of Transportation installed two such clocks at bus stops in Staten Island as part of a pilot program in December, so advocates are now asking the mayor, city councilmembers and borough presidents to allocate funds in this year’s budget to expand the program to all five boroughs.

“Bus countdown clocks could modernize buses, make them accessible to more people and make public transportation in New York City more user friendly,” said John Raskin, executive director of Riders Alliance, a public transportation advocacy group.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer attended the rally to show her support for the program. Brewer said the countdown clocks would benefit seniors who are unable to take the subway and may not have smart phones.

“If you are waiting early in the morning for the crosstown and the line is really long, you want to know, should I take another kind of alternative or should I wait for the bus?” she said. “The seniors wait and wait and wait, having no idea when that bus is coming. No app is going to help them.”

The renewed call for countdown clocks follows the completion of MTA’s “Bus Time” program, which placed GPS devices on all buses in Staten Island, Manhattan and the Bronx. Riders can access real-time GPS information about bus locations by checking the “Bus Time” website or sending a text message to a code listed on the bus schedule at each stop. GPS installation on buses in Brooklyn and Queens is expected to be completed in the next several weeks.

But Bob Nelson, 63, who is a member of the Riders Alliance, said he does not have a smart phone and therefore cannot check bus location information while at the bus stop. Nelson said the possibility of waiting an unknown amount of time for the bus is a disincentive to ride it.

“The uncertainty of whether you’re making a good time investment or not is anxiety-producing,” he said.

Nelson also pointed out that in addition to seniors, children going to school, people who can’t afford smart phones and visitors unfamiliar with the city do not currently benefit from the “Bus Time” initiative.

Gale Brewer said the city has capital funding that could pay for new countdown clocks, and that she plans to advocate for it,

“I would love to know when the bus is coming,” she said. “The clocks in the subway are so helpful.”

However, Brewer acknowledged that many other programs need funding as well. The Department of Transportation estimates that each free-standing solar-powered countdown clock would cost $20,000 to install.

But John Raskin says the cost could be much lower, pointing out that the Washington D.C. transit authority estimated its costs at $4,000 per sign. Raskin said he plans to meet with city officials as the city’s budget is decided over the coming months, to urge them to fund the clocks.

“Countdown clocks have been a huge hit on subway platforms,” Raskin said. “Now it’s time to bring them to bus stops.”