Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Real-time bus arrival signs are coming to Washington, D.C.

March 9, 2012 - 11:05 AM
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(Photo: flickr/ElvertBarnes)

When's that next bus arriving? Someday soon, you may be able to simply look up at your bus shelter and see the real-time arrival data. WMATA expects to begin installing the fancy new bus arrival signs in late spring of this year.

WMATA issued a request for proposals earlier this month in search of a company to install the technology ("Customer Information Electronic Display Signs," the RFP declares) and hopes to integrate the innovative signs in various bus shelters in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. The deadline for contractors is April 10. WMATA is asking one lucky contractor to install 30 of the sweet new signs later this year before June 30 and 115 signs in the 2013 fiscal year and another 20 per year through 2017. Right now the plan is, the District Department of Transportation says, to roll out the new tech in some of D.C.'s major bus corridors — 16th Street (Route S9), Georgia Avenue (Route 79), H Street-Benning Rd (Route X9), Wisconsin Avenue (Route 37), and Pennsylvania Avenue (Route 39).

Half of the initial order will be at Metro stations and half at priority corridors, according to WMATA chief spokesperson Dan Stessel. He alluded to the number of different parties working to together to make this possible — the District government because they own the shelters, DDOT contractor Clear Channel due to access agreements, PEPCO to provide power to the shelters, and of course WMATA as lord of the Metrobuses.

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: flickr/daquellamanera)

But according to DDOT spokesperson John Lisle, the city hopes to expand the signs on a larger scale as funding becomes available.

Lisle told me that the city government and WMATA have worked together for awhile on these signs. The new signs will be funded through a federal TIGER grant that in this instance will involve more than $16 million for the District's bus priority investments. The grant will go toward not only real-time arrival signs but also transit signal priority systems, signal optimization, uninterruptable power supply for signals, curb extensions and other facility improvement, and a dedicated bus segment on Georgia Avenue, according to WMATA's Council performance review documents. This spending is part of a larger $58.8 million awarded that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood presented in a ceremony two years ago — it's the largest grant given to bus services in the nation.

This news comes shortly after WMATA unveiled another bus enhancement with its MetroAlerts, which marks a first for D.C.'s bus riders.

One challenge for WMATA will be to get the technology right. As one woman pointed out at Metro's fare hearings this week, the arrival times on Metrorail displays don't always match when the trains arrive, and humorous mistakes on those signs have been an ongoing joke in D.C. transit. Will these real-time bus signs be reliable? The smaller order of signs for 2012 makes sense. The agency likely hopes to fine-tune their operation this year before rolling out more than a hundred in 2013.

WMATA eventually hopes to offer a total of around 800 of these real-time bus shelter signs in the years to come, according to their Council responses. There are about 2,400 Metrobus shelters out of more than 12,000 bus stops throughout the region.

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