Very Cool – “real-time customer information displays at four bus stops in preparation for a wider rollout next year”

Photo via WMATA


“Metro is in the process of installing real-time customer information displays at four bus stops in preparation for a wider rollout next year.

The signs show bus riders how many minutes before their bus arrives, using GPS technology, and also have the capability to show emergency messages, detour information and travel tips.

“This project is a centerpiece of our ongoing effort to give bus customers the tools they need for an easy, convenient travel experience,” said James Hamre, Director of Metrobus Planning, Scheduling and Customer Facilities. “Just by looking up, the new signs quickly and clearly answer the question, ‘Where’s my bus?'”

The new signs are located at:

District of Columbia: Eastbound H St NW at 7th St
Montgomery County: Southbound Viers Mill Rd at Randolph Rd
Virginia: Pentagon Transit Center (installation scheduled for today)
Prince George’s County: Silver Hill Rd at Pennsylvania Ave

The installation and testing of the four initial signs is being performed in cooperation with Metro’s jurisdictional partners and was funded through a federal TIGER grant.

If the testing is successful, Metro and its partners plan to install nearly 150 additional signs across the region in the spring.”

37 Comment

  • Ally

    This is awesome if it’s accurate. It’d be much more inclined to take the bus if these were in place at all the stops.

    • Tsar of Truxton

      You realize there are apps that already do this. Slightly less convenient (when walking by a stop) than having it posted at the stop, but if not knowing when a bus will arrive is your main reason for not taking buses, you might want to check them out. Personally, I think the apps are move convenient because you can time when to leave somewhere knowing (roughly) when a bus will arrive.

      • Not everyone has a smartphone. Really, it’s true.

        • NextBus Pro Tip: Get bus arrival predictions by text message

          You can access NextBus prediction via a cell phone by simply sending a text message. The arrival predictions for your bus will then be texted back to you.

          The 5-digit text message address is 41411. The format of your text message should be:

          nbus wmata [your stop ID]

  • I don’t use metro, but don’t most modern cities have something like this already?

    • “but don’t most modern cities have something like this already?”
      Maybe in Europe. They definitely do not exist in NYC. I haven’t seen them in any other American cities.

    • Yes. Even Nashville–not exactly a model for public transit–has these at a number of bus stops. Particularly, I noticed, in the parts of town where more people take advantage of the bus system.

    • The SF Muni system has this and uses the same NextBus service as Metro (in fact you can use the Metro mobile app in SF and get information for Muni buses). As I understand it, the information is the same as in the NextBus system, so the accuracy issues (which I believe come from bad transponders on the buses themselves) will be similar. However, I’ve found that the NextBus information is relatively reliable – certainly more so than the published schedules, especially at rush hour.

    • topscallop

      Paris does. I was impressed when I was there last month without the benefit of my bus apps that I use here in DC.

    • Seattle has a few of them, very convenient as buses don’t come as often. but really only a handful of stops have them.

    • London has them — not at every single stop, but at many of them, especially in Zones 1 and 2 (the center city).

  • This is nice in concept, though I question if this is really the best use of resources and how accurate the boards will be. The bus times on metro apps for smart phones are notoriously off, and they source data directly from wmata.

    In my opinion, the money would be better spend on improving and expanding actual service (i.e. more buses running more regular routes) than electronic wait time boards. Don’t most people have smart phones with metro apps? Or am I being elitist?

    • I suspect that in some ways this is about the changing expectation of riders. Of course improving service is good but they may feel people want this anyway – particularly if other cities buses (and the our Metrorail) does it.

    • “Don’t most people have smart phones with metro apps? Or am I being elitist?”
      If you have to ask….
      I’d say that many people who take the bus in DC are low income, since it’s significantly cheaper than Metro. Lots of seniors also rely on the bus. You can draw the logical conclusion.

      • I ride the bus daily, and in my entirely anecdotal experience, the low income riders with whom I stand around waiting on the next bus are checking their phones for the wait time as often as I am. I still question if this is the best use of resources, but I’m certainly willing to concede that it could make a marked difference in the efficiency of the system for a given constituency of riders. I don’t think it’s a BAD idea, I just think the second shift workers downtown waiting 45 minutes for the next S-Line would prefer more service over an electronic board. But again, this is a good thing overall.

    • Even if everyone did have a cellphone, these are still useful. IE if it’s cold out (or you have gloves on), or if you are just walking by, feel maybe uncomfortable pulling your phone out for whatever reason, etc

      the visibility of it alone is worth it

    • Nope, not everyone has a smartphone, and not everyone who has a smartphone use the apps.

      This will be an improvement.. if it works, and if the GPS on the buses stays on.

      • While not universal, smart phone usage is higher than many people think it is. Pew put out research this year showing that large portions of low income individuals own smart phones. However, the numbers are fairly low among older generations. That being said, as noted below, much of the funding for this project appears to be coming from Federal TIGER grants, rather than from wmata. So I am now all for this.

        • As high as smartphone usage is now, batteries still die, one can run out of data, go over their data plan (which not everyone can afford), or one might actually leave the house without their phone. Things happen.

    • I use the app every day and find that it is generally right on. It’s only slow during bad traffic, and I don’t know how they could possibly calibrate to that.

    • austindc

      I believe this project was at least partly funded by federal grant money that were specifically allocated for this work, so it’s not cutting into Metro’s regular budget for improving and expanding service.

      • The District has a contract with Clear Channel Advertising, granting them exclusive rights to the advertising, in exchange for maintaining the bus stops and installing the NextBus arrival screens. This contract went into effect NINE years ago, so you only have Clear Channel to blame for the delays and mismanagement. These next bus arrival displays were supposed to be active years ago.

      • This is correct – it’s a Federal TIGER grant, not WMATA money. Jamal is wrong about the connection to Clear Channel. The TIGER grant is totally separate from that. WMATA has not approached Clear Channel about adapting their screens for this kind of thing.

        • Wrong. Clear Channel Adshel, Inc., the franchisee in the Bus Shelter Franchise Agreement, is required to install NextBus functionality as part of the agreement. This has nothing to do with a federal grant.

          • Incorrect again. I worked on this project in past years (yes it has taken that long). Clear Channel is responsible for making shelters _ready_ for real-time arrival signage. These signs are funded by TIGER as stated above. There are something like 140 locations in DC slated for the signs and many more around the region. Should the program be expanded, that’s when local jurisdictions should be expected to pay in for more signs at additional stops.

      • Really good to know; that makes me support it. Thanks for the info.

  • I love the idea of this, but most stops I use are 4 or more bus routes, how can posting only the next two wait times be helpful?

    What about installing a comprehensible bus route map at most stations as well? I get asked every other day by tourists where each route goes and where to change, but often don’t know the answer.

    • My guess is that they will scroll through and show multiple buses.. at least I hope so.

    • The ones in Chapel Hill will scroll through all of the routes served by that stop so you can see all the times if you wait around for about 1 min.

    • It is very odd that more stops don’t have maps. Seems so easy to do, particularly at stops that have bus shelters – there’s a glass wall that could hang a map without any issues or much cost. When I first moved here I was shocked but I guess I’m used to it now, and do have a smartphone to rely on now also.

  • I have to pile on here. Waaaaaaay to late for this. I lived in Belgium in 98 and their bus stops already had this (and it was oddly accurate).

    Considering everyone has a smartphone and looks this info up already, what is the point of spending millions on something like this, that we will then have to spend millions more in perpetuity maintaining.

    • I have to agree with eurosnob here – this tech would have been beneficial awhile back before the advent of smartphones (and I agree with Anony that almost everyone at bus stops these days – at least the stops I’ve used which tend to span the socioeconomic spectrum – has a smartphone capable of using one of the myriad free transportation apps). That being said, I welcome anything that allows me to use my smartphone less.

  • I don’t care if this technology has been in use around the world for decades–I’m SO GLAD that this is being implemented. As a bus rider who uses the NextBus app, I still feel like this will be a valuable improvement, and it’s something that will make me use the bus more than I currently do. Yes, you can find it on NextBus, but loading it and finding the stop can for me take up to 3 minutes, depending on how my phone/network is acting. There are stops that I use where I don’t want to bring my phone out because the neighborhood is rough. So, I welcome this as a time saver and an improvement.
    In conclusion: YAY!

  • I am also happy to see this development. The apps are great for planning ahead, but I ride the various bus lines at all hours and don’t always want to show that I’m carrying a smartphone.

  • In Berlin, these are everywhere. It’s awesome and makes it much easier to ride the bus.

  • this is minor, but why are they being mounted parallel to the sidewalk and street? i think it would help visibility to have them mounted perpendicular so tha t you could see them as you’re walking (or running) up. and just to keep up with everyone, i’ve seen these in europe too.

  • True, there is several apps doing exactly that…
    Displaying the real time estimated arrival won’t solve the problem of buses not connected to the system, buses arriving put “out of service”, or buses simply disappearing from the grid.
    The problem is not technology, it is how bus (and metros) are managed.

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