Solar-Powered Real-Time Bus Tracker Displays ($150,000)

High-use bus stops throughout Cambridge

This project proposes installing solar-powered bus tracking displays with real-time arrival information at high-use bus stops throughout the City of Cambridge.

 Unlike the MBTA’s bus schedules and trip planners, real-time bus tracker displays inform transit riders when buses actually arrive. With that information, they can then decide to wait, know if a bus is late or has passed, or consider an alternative route at stops served by multiple lines. While waiting, riders might decide to patronize a nearby business, potentially increasing commercial foot traffic, and knowing their wait’s duration can reduce the anxieties often associated with taking public transit. Improving riders’ experiences in these ways could encourage increased bus ridership, as seen in a similar initiative by the Chicago Transit Authority. Increased ridership would, in turn, help address the city’s traffic reduction needs.

Widespread access to real-time bus arrival data is, like any transit information, a community asset, one which Cambridge currently lacks. Indoor transit display screens at select city locations, such as City Hall and the Central Library, reach too few residents and do not help riders make transit decisions where and when they need them. 

Similar to an e-book reader, e-ink displays are black-and-white and reflect light like paper. This makes reading comfortable, including in direct sunlight. E-ink also allows for a large viewing angle, wider than most light-emitting displays, and new, high-contrast e-ink technologies are ADA complaint. Because they reflect light, e-ink displays also require little power and do not need to be wired to the city grid. Solar power charges a reserve battery, and the ruggedized displays operate at a wide temperature range and resist vandalism.

 Smartphone transit apps inform riders of transit options, often in real time, but can be inconvenient to access in certain situations, and not all transit riders have smartphones. Even for those who do, offering various ways to access real-time arrival information would serve the full spectrum of transit customers.

Locating the displays at high-use bus stops in all city neighborhoods would serve the widest range of residents. The displays could be mounted near the city’s existing bus shelters throughout Cambridge at the busiest bus stops, with priority given to environmental justice areas, near senior housing developments, hospitals, and other locations where access to real-time transit data is of particular benefit. (See the attached map for specific recommended installation locations.)

The City estimates $15,000 per screen for a total cost of $150,000. 

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  • commented 2016-12-15 18:33:06 -0500
    On Sundays the 75 bus should be merged with the 69 bus, or extended to cover the 68 route in order to provide one-seat crosstown service to the Galleria mall or Kendall Sq. areas. Since ridership is lower on Sunday it should cover greater distance esp. since the West Cambridge buses are all timed to miss all other bus connections in Harvard Square by about 5-10 minutes on Sundays and thus are not a worthwhile option in comparison to just driving or getting a lift instead.
  • commented 2016-12-03 22:06:01 -0500
    This is a great idea! It could increase ridership significantly. Are there less expensive options that could help distribute these bus trackers more widely? There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for a bus when you don’t know for sure when, or if, it will arrive.
  • commented 2016-11-23 08:31:07 -0500
    Great idea. Will provide much relief to bus riders. Not knowing when the bus will come is probably the most difficult aspect of commuting by public transit.
  • published this page in Proposals (PB3) 2016-11-21 12:52:46 -0500
  • published this page in Proposals (PB3) 2016-11-21 12:12:27 -0500

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