What's happening at other transit agencies?

This weekly post features news from other transit agencies and planners from around the world. Did we miss a good story? Let us know in the comments.

Credit: New York City MTA

New York aims to install interactive touch-screen tablets in subway stations

New York’s MTA is working to add ‘On the Go!’ interactive tablets to its stations that will provide users with directions, service status updates and neighborhood restaurant reviews. These ‘virtual agents’ would sit near the banks of turnstiles, where the station booth and public telephone used to be. The MTA envisions installing 47-inch interactive tablets throughout the entire 468-station subway system.

Going digital at the turnstiles and on the platforms will allow the transit agency to update information and advertising remotely, making them both a way to keep the public informed and a source of ad revenue for the MTA.  According to a spokesman for the transit system, “On the Go! goes far beyond what we can do with paper-based station information. It’s eye-catching, informative and immediate — a huge leap forward in station-based customer information.”

Do real-time updates increase transit ridership?

Continuing with the theme of digital changes aimed at improving the transit rider’s experience, in The Atlantic Cities, Eric Jaffe writes about research that considers how Google is changing the way people interact with public transit. Google Maps and Google Transit already publish schedules for more than 475 transit agencies around the world. Jaffe’s article notes how Google’s public transit activism is helping public-transit users better plan their trips and save time waiting for a bus or train. According to research due out in the June issue of Transportation Research Part C, the Chicago Transit Authority’s Bus Tracker has attracted a significant (if modest) amount of new riders to the city’s bus system. The lesson from Chicago may be that real-time transit information should be marketed to both transit riders and drivers to increase ridership.

Metro’s provides its own real time bus information for smartphones in the form of Nextrip. Other agencies are working on signage — here’s an example from Seattle on the SDOT Blog.

Debate over transportation funding in Atlanta

In Atlanta, disagreements over transit investments are threatening a planned transit tax. In a recent piece in The Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark considers the challenge of getting residents of the 10-county Atlanta area to agree on which projects to fund with revenue from a proposed sales tax increase. While the tax would generate a lot of money — an estimated $6.1 billion over 10 years, that still isn’t enough for every desired project. When MARTA was formed back in 1971 to run Atlanta’s new rail system, the agency served a region with 1.5 million people. Today, 2.6 million more people live in the Atlanta metro area and traffic is among the nation’s worst.

The DeKalb County NAACP has announced its opposition to the tax referendum because the list of projects agreed upon substitutes bus rapid transit for rail in South DeKalb County. The NAACP contends that South DeKalb is being under-served, since the most expensive improvements (more rail) are in parts of the county already served by MARTA. Some transit advocates fear that the NAACP’s opposition puts the transit tax in jeopardy.

Seattle subway tunnel boring almost done

Tunneling on a stretch of Seattle’s underground light rail extension is nearly done. Work on the two mile tunnel between Husky Stadium and Broadway has taken about 10 months or an average of 35 feet per day. A few residents have been perturbed by the vibrations caused by the tunneling but the Seattle transit agency says vibration will not be a problem when the light rail line connecting downtown to Montlake opens in 2016.

A second tunnel boring machine is working on a seven-tenths of a mile stretch that passes below the homes of thousands of people and the I-5 freeway. To follow the University Link project more closely visit Sound Transit.

New double-decker buses in London

Just in time for the Summer Olympics, London is rolling out new double-decker buses. The swanky new red buses are costly at an estimated $36,000 per seat.
First introduced in the 1950s, London’s double-decker buses have long been more than just a way of getting around, especially for tourists. The new buses feature the same distinctive curves as the 50s era buses as well as the hop-on, hop-off rear platform popular with Londoners.

The new buses were an election promise made by Mayor Boris Johnson, who argues that they will help restore civic pride in the city’s now much maligned public transit system. In addition to the buses’ arrival before the Olympics, they also come just 12 weeks before Johnson is up for re-election against an opponent who has made fare increases a campaign issue.

Wayfinding signage in San Francisco

Transportation Nation, a daily blog produced by WNYC, takes a look at the confusing transit signage that confounds San Francisco’s bus and rail commuters. The blog reports that the agency is in the process of revamping all of the Bay Area’s transit signs. By the end of 2012, residents and visitors to the city will be treated to new maps, signs and real-time transit information at rail stations.

As the graphic designer charged with redesigning the way the public navigates the Bay Area’s many transit systems puts it, “It is all about reducing stress, increasing clarity.  You don’t want people unhappy about missing their train because they couldn’t find where the train is leaving from.”

2 thoughts on “What's happening at other transit agencies?

  1. I know how to use my smartphone to find a route home, but I was stymied last night when I tried to help someone find their bus stop downtown via mta.net. It seems like there should be (and maybe there is?) a simple way to look up information on a specific bus line rather than entering destination information and hoping it comes up as a result.

  2. Thanks for your comment. At many bus stops, new signage now shows the stop’s #. For example, a traveler going from Broadway and 8th to Sunset and Beaudry would enter the following information:

    To obtain GPS-based arrival times for stop number: 4805
    Phone: 511 and say “Nextrip”
    SMS: 41411 “metro 4805″

    Google Maps and Google Transit now also show the lines that passengers may wish to take from their location. I hope this information is helpful.

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