In a few years it could be much easier to decide whether it’s quicker to hop on an MBTA bus or subway train, or just hoof it.
The MBTA is developing real-time systems that would give riders by-the-minute countdowns of when the next buses, trolleys and trains would arrive at each stop.
“Now you can hear that a train is ‘approaching’ or is ‘arriving,’ ” MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said, referring to public address system announcements. “But we’ll be able to give a more precise countdown so you know that the next train is coming and it’s going to Braintree, but it’s also four minutes away.”
The MBTA hopes the systems will take the uncertainty out of traveling by public transportation and help increase ridership. It’s a service that’s been requested by customers for years, Grabauskas said.
The multimillion-dollar project, now out for bid, mirrors a $5 million “Next Train” project under way for the MBTA commuter rail that’s expected to be completed by next June. Countdowns, accurate to the minute, will be displayed on signs at each station, using data from global positioning systems on each train.
The MBTA is considering several ways to relay the bus, trolley and subway countdowns to customers, including light-emitting diode screens and text messages to handheld devices.
The T is shooting for a rollout in three or four years that likely would start with buses. A pilot countdown system for Silver Line bus stops uses 18 LED signs along Washington Street. “It’s working great but to put that at 8,000 locations would be cost-prohibitive,” Grabauskas said.
The MBTA, which will have GPS units on all buses by year’s end, instead is leaning toward delivering the data to riders’ handheld devices. Similar to a system tested but aborted last year in Washington, D.C., due to only 80 percent accuracy, signs posted at each stop would bear an ID number. Customers would text message that number to the MBTA and receive a message back with estimated arrival times.
LED signs are under consideration for subway trains, since underground stations limit the use of wireless devices. “The (Green Line) offers unique challenges because it’s both above and below ground,” Grabauskas said.
Grabaukas acknowledges that real-time information services are long overdue but said it’s been one of his priorities since he became GM in 2005. The Washington (D.C.) Metro Area Transit Authority started providing real-time countdowns in 2000.