bad timing

Broken Bus Stop Countdown Clocks Tick Off Riders

Inactive countdown clocks along an Upper East Side route, seen on June 7, 2019.
Inactive countdown clocks along an Upper East Side route, seen on June 7, 2019. Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

Countdown clocks have sprouted at more than 500 MTA bus stops citywide over the last five years, offering one way for commuters to learn how long they’ll have to wait.

But at many stops, time stands still.

THE CITY spot-checked 40 countdown clocks across the five boroughs — and found that one of every five of the high-tech signs didn’t work.

The eight clunky clocks included sites where malfunctioning modems cut off access to real-time bus information — like at West 57th Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan —  or where power problems have caused extended outages.

“I’ve never seen this thing work,” Bavly Hanna, 21, said of the clock at the Lexington Avenue and East 89th Street stop for the M101, M102 and 103 buses. “I don’t even bother looking at the clock because I know it’s not going to work.”

That’s because the East 89th Street sign has been out of service since July 2, 2018, according to the city’s Department of Transportation, which maintains the countdown clocks through its own crews and contractors.

A few blocks north on Lexington, at East 94th Street, the countdown clock has been on the blink since May 8. THE CITY also found malfunctioning timers along Second Avenue and on West 57th Street in Manhattan, at Vernon Boulevard and 50th Avenue in Queens and at Jerome Avenue and Bedford Park Boulevard in The Bronx.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Ray Colon, 74, of The Bronx. “Why put any money into something that doesn’t work?”

Time Is Money

Countdown clocks have cost the city millions of dollars since they began appearing at some bus stops in 2014. Last year, five City Council members spent more than $1 million in capital funding to install more.

Commuters already can access next-bus information by texting 511123 and entering their stop’s code. They also can tap the app for MTA BusTime, which uses GPS to track buses in real time.

But the countdown clocks are particularly popular with riders who don’t text or use smartphones.

Sometimes the old-fashioned ways work best.
Sometimes the old-fashioned ways work best. Photo: Jose Martinez /THE CITY

“That sign right there, it’s a joke,” said Eneida Garofolo, 68, pointing to a sign at Jerome Avenue and Bedford Park Boulevard that lists next-bus times for three routes. “It will tell you when the next [Bx10] or the next [Bx28] is coming, but I’ve never seen it tell me when the [Bx26] is coming.”

At Vernon Boulevard and 50th Avenue in Queens, a countdown clock for the Q103 failed.

“It would be nice if it worked, because there are people who don’t have smartphones like me,” said Jantzen Mora. “And if this is already in existence, it should be operating.”

Dozens of Repair Requests

A spokesperson for the city Department of Transportation said the agency has received 1,089 service requests to address dangling, damaged or missing signs at bus stops. Among those, 74 were service requests to repair electronic BusTime signs.

“Because this is a relatively new program, we are continuing to work on a management tool to help us respond to these types of complaints,” the spokesperson said.

Transit advocacy groups that pushed for the clocks said keeping them in working order is key to regaining trust in a system whose ridership and average speeds have been sinking for years.

“Countdown clocks are a crucial amenity for New York riders, especially while bus service remains slow and unreliable,” said Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director at the Riders Alliance. “Just like shelters and benches, countdown clocks help make the wait tolerable and signal that their city cares about them.

The countdown clock was not working at 23rd Street and Broadway on June 21.
The countdown clock was not working at 23rd Street and Broadway on June 21. Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

“As countdown clocks age and technology evolves, the mayor and DOT must make sure they’re properly maintained.”

Manhattan Councilmember Keith Powers — whose district is home to the countdown clock that’s been out of service since last summer — said he’s heard from several constituents about faulty countdown clocks. His predecessor on the Council, Dan Garodonick, allocated $950,000 in funding for bus countdown clocks in the district when they debuted in 2014.

“We have been working on a case-by-case basis to get them back up and running,” Powers told THE CITY.

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