Real-time arrival info is displaying at bus stops around Philadelphia

The 60 status update screens aren’t run by SEPTA — they’re an OTIS project.

Arrival status is displayed along with current weather on an Intersection display at a SEPTA bus stop in Center City

Arrival status is displayed along with current weather on an Intersection display at a SEPTA bus stop in Center City

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
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Real time arrival information is starting to appear on big screens at bus stops around Philadelphia, so you can better estimate how long you’ll have to wait.

The displays use SEPTA location data, but the boards aren’t run out of the transit authority. They’re a project from the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability (OTIS) via ad tech firm Intersection, which manages displays on Philly bus shelters.

About 60 bus shelters will be showing real-time arrival info by this spring, according to OTIS spokesperson Imani Harris.

Each display provides status info for the next eight vehicles scheduled to arrive, with a countdown showing how many minutes away the bus is, what route it’s on, and whether it’s running on time. The feature is part of an OTIS effort to make user experience better, as recommended in its Philadelphia Transit Plan rolled out last year, Harris said.

So far the real-time info has been implemented mostly in University City and Center City, she explained, because there’s been “a priority on high-ridership locations.”

OTIS still hasn’t determined how many of the shelters will eventually show the ETA info for buses, but Harris said there will be an expansion from the current 60.

Real-time arrival displays are already a mainstay of bus systems in other major cities. They’ve been active at some bus stops in NYC since 2007, and Seattle implemented bus displays in 2015.

Separate from the bus shelter project, SEPTA two years ago announced plans to place countdown clocks at stations for subways, trolleys, and the Norristown High Speed Line. An agency spokesperson didn’t have readily available updates on the progress of that project.

Intersection’s involvement with bus shelters dates to 2014, when Philly signed a 20-year contract with Titan Advertising to replace about 300 of the city’s existing shelters and install 300 new ones. Soon after, Titan merged with technology design firm Control Group, forming Intersection, which now handles installation of displays and books advertising, then shares revenue with the city. The initial deal guaranteed the city at least $52 million in ad revenue over the lifetime of the contract.

At the outset, the hope was to complete all 600 new shelters in five years. According to Harris, that’s now viewed as an “overly optimistic” goal. Eight years and one pandemic later, progress has just passed the halfway mark.

“To date, the city has replaced approximately 155 old shelters and installed 175 at new locations. COVID-19’s effect on outdoor advertising has negatively impacted the capital funding available for the bus shelter program,” Harris said.

These installations, though separate from SEPTA, coincide with the “Bus Revolution,” the transit authority’s initiative to overhaul routes and frequency based on rider feedback and other collected data.

Three themes emerged in the agency’s surveys and outreach conducted throughout 2021:

  • People selected reliability and frequency as SEPTA’s two biggest challenges, with concerns about crowding and missed trips also ranking high among concerns.
  • Most SEPTA riders preferred buses serving smaller areas with more frequent service, as opposed to buses serving larger areas with less frequent service.
  • Survey respondents expressed approval of bus-only lanes, with support “strong across all age, racial, income and vehicle ownership categories.”

SEPTA expects to have final recommendations for revamping the bus system by year’s end.

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