Citing a list of obstacles and challenges, the MTA has once again abandoned a multi-million dollar GPS tracking initiative for the city's bus system. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
It's a project that was supposed to revolutionize bus travel, telling riders exactly how long 'till the next bus, and allowing them to see the exact location of buses in real time, whether on the Internet or on a handheld device. But at a City Council oversight hearing Thursday, MTA officials said 'forget about it' and have officially abandoned the project, to the disbelief of lawmakers.
"It's just incredible that in this day and age, we're nowhere closer to being able to know where the buses are at any given point," said Queens Councilman John Liu.
Under a contract awarded in 2005, tracking equipment was installed onboard 185 Manhattan buses. In August of 2007, screens began operating in test mode, but were turned off a few months later because the times were inaccurate. They've been dark ever since.
It's the second time the MTA has thrown in the towel on a tracking system. Back in 1996, a similar project failed, in part because satellite signals were lost in the skyscraper canyons of Manhattan – just one of many issues, the MTA says, that makes it difficult to predict arrival times.
"It's not just the urban canyons, but the schedules, the tight schedules, the headways, the traffic. The operating environment I think is the most challenging of any city's," said Sassan Davoodi, Co-Project Manager, NYC Transit.
"After nearly 20 years, there's been zero progress. And that's pathetic," said Liu
The MTA wouldn't say exactly what went wrong this time, just that the overall system was not reliable. How much of the $14 million contract the MTA will lose is unclear. It says that matter is now in the hands of its legal department. In the meantime, it's back to the drawing board.
"We now need to move forward and see what it is we have to correct, what it is we have to get better at in order to make this a whole package," said Robert Walsh, Project Manager, NYC Transit.
The MTA is now in the process of literally pulling the plug on this project. It hopes to disconnect and remove the electronic message boards at the 15 stations in Manhattan where they had been installed, beginning next month.
Attempts at bus tracking apparently date back even further than 1996. NY1 was told that NYC Transit tried a bus tracking pilot program at the Queens Village bus depot sometime in the early 1980s.
According to a transit spokesman, the system relied on sensors placed on telephone poles. The project was discontinued when it was found the data was not in a usable form.