Our General Manager Amanda Moskowitz delivered testimony this morning to the New York City Council. She spoke about the power of the MTA’s BusTime system to revolutionize transit by connecting commuters with reliable bus information. She also suggested the ways in which text messaging can connect all government agencies with their citizens. Read her full testimony below.
Thank you Chairman Vacca. My name is Amanda Moskowitz. I am the General Manager at Mobile Commons, a mobile technology and strategy provider to multiple government agencies, companies, and nonprofits in New York City and around the country.
We live in an era when new technology is revolutionizing how governments can communicate with residents. Text messaging is an extremely effective way for governments to communicate with city residents across income, age and ethnicity. Text messaging is improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers.
Today, I’m here to talk to you the MTA’s BusTime platform.
Simply put, the MTA’s BusTime is the mobile service that provides commuters with real-time information on the nearest bus. Riders can access this information through web, mobile web or texting. Mobile Commons provides BusTime’s texting component.
The system is easy to use and very effective. Each bus stop in the program is assigned a keyword specific to that stop. When riders text that keyword to 511-123, they immediately receive a text back that tells them how far away the next three buses are from their stop. It’s a simple concept but it has a huge impact. It’s allowed people to avoid waiting unnecessarily at the bus stop. They can now use that time to grab a cup of coffee or spend a few extra minutes at home with their children. Commuters can now make smarter and more efficient decisions about their daily transit plans. These decisions at the person-level ultimately make a macro difference and improve efficiency and smooth commuting across the bus and public transit system. This improves quality of life.
BusTime is now borough-wide in Staten Island,, and also is operating along with a couple of pilot routes in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The MTA is planning to expand the service to the entire city, with the Bronx coming online next.
Rapid adoption of text messaging shows the public’s enthusiasm for accessing public transit information via text.
If the reaction from Staten Island bus riders is any indication, BusTime is going to be used soon by hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of bus riders across the entire city.
Since BusTime launched in late January, over 51,000 bus riders have texted in to find out where their bus is. Over 38,000 riders in Staten Island have used it. That’s more than 30% of Staten Island’s bus riding population – an extraordinary usage rate.
BusTime usage has grown exponentially. We received about 20,000 texts per week when the program started. We now receive about 120,000 texts per week. We’ve seen the highest growth in the past 8 weeks – nearly 47% – since the first 2 months of the program.
Not only is the adoption high within the population, but those riders who do use the program, use it frequently. The average bus rider who uses BusTime makes a query 9-10 times a week. They have incorporated this into their daily routines – Monday through Friday – the coming and the going. In fact, for you bus riders in the audience, you might be interested to know that the top three bus stops for BusTime are the intersection of Victory Boulevard and Clove Road on Staten Island, Battery Place and Washington Street in Manhattan and Hylan Blvd and Clove Road in Staten Island.
Why are BusTime and texting technology important for public transportation in NYC?
The success of BusTime is extraordinary. But it’s not surprising. People take their phones with them everywhere, and every phone can text. There are 332 million mobile subscribers in the US who send 6.4 billion messages in a day. 88% of American adults own a cell phone, which is greater than the number of adults with broadband or dial-up access. You could say that texting technology is the fundamentally democratic medium – the medium of the public.
In addition to ubiquity, the humble 160-character text message is efficient because it is read. Essentially every message that is sent is read by the recipient.
The Impact of Texting Technology on Public Transit and other Public Services
Texting can easily, effectively and efficiently improve service not just for transit riders but for all New Yorkers who use government services. The Department of Health sends texts to remind HIV+ urban youths to take their anti-retrovirals. In another campaign, the DOH works with urban males to encourage them to register for IDs like Social Security cards and State IDs. The Department of Education keeps parents informed via text about school issues, including the event calendar, lunch menus, and how to enroll their children in school programs. And a third agency will announce their rollout later this week.
We look forward to continuing to work with the MTA and the City. Thank you for your time today. I’m happy to share ideas for additional MTA services via text messaging as well as answer any questions.
[i] 73% of adults 18+ use their mobile phone to send/receive text messages. 95% of 18-29 year-old cell phone users send/receive text messages. 57% of 65+ year-old cell phone users send/receive text messages.
[ii] 68% of all White, non-Hispanic adults use their mobile phone to send/receive text messages. 79% of all Black, non-Hispanic adults use their mobile phone to send/receive text messages.. 83% of all Hispanic adults use their mobile phone to send/receive text messages.
[iii] Less than $30,000 avg 58.7 texts per day / median 20. $30,000-$49,999 avg 40.2 texts per day / median 15. $50,000-$74,999 avg 25.9 texts per day / median 10. $75,000+ avg 31.9 texts per day / median 10