Today the MTA debuts their new Bus Time system on Staten Island. Commuters can text to find where the closest bus is – decreasing their wait times at bus stops and streamlining their commutes.  The Staten Island rollout is just the first in what the MTA is planning as a citywide reinvention of transit.

Here’s how it works. Commuters text the unique code for their bus stop to 511123. So to find out the location of westbound buses approaching Henderson Av and Westbury Av, text the code 200884 to 511123. (If you don’t know your stop’s code, you can just text in the cross streets).

I just found out that the S44 is 2.1 miles away. Try it yourself!

The Bus Time system installed GPS hardware into buses throughout the city. New Yorkers can then text in to find the location and direction of the closest bus to their stop. (They can also use a smart phone or look online.)

By letting anybody with a cell phone simply text in to find when their next bus is coming, the Bus Time system makes public transportation more accessible and reliable.  That makes commuters more likely to use buses – decreasing congestion and increasing the efficient use of public utilities. According to an article from WNYC, “Knowing such information can be a key factor in convincing travelers to use public transportation rather than personal vehicles.” That doesn’t just make commuting easier – it also helps the environment.

Bus Time is just one more way that cities today are making data more easily available to their citizens.  As O’Reilly Radar wrote last November, “New York has become the epicenter for many experiments in governance, from citizensourcing smarter government to participatory budgeting to embracing a broader future as a data platform.”

By providing people a better experience of transit in general, the MTA’s Bus Time aims to increase the citywide quality of life. Check out the MTA’s video about the initiative, featuring our very own CTO, Ben Stein!

And some excellent coverage of the program by NBC New York