MTA plans upgrades for buses

Global positioning gear, message signs on the way

February 10, 2004|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Buses in Baltimore are going high-tech.

The state said yesterday that the Maryland Transit Administration's fleet of buses will be outfitted with global positioning systems so that officials can keep tabs on where they are and communicate that information to passengers.

About 200 major bus stops in the Baltimore region will get electronic message signs that will tell passengers when the next bus will arrive. Officials said the days of standing at a bus stop and peering unknowing down a street, waiting for the next bus, are numbered.

The positioning systems and message signs should be installed by the end of 2006. The $50 million program will also outfit buses with security cameras, systems to announce each stop and antennas to send data on mechanical problems to maintenance shops. The program should mean that buses get fixed faster and never leave a yard in poor shape.

"This incredible technology allows central command to know where a bus is at all times and the condition the bus is in," said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who attended the unveiling of the system at the Camden Yards transit station yesterday morning.

In addition to 200 bus stops, the message signs will be installed at all light rail, subway and commuter train stops. The system will also automatically count the number of people who board each bus, providing the MTA with information that was previously available only through manual counts.

Officials said passengers will know exactly when buses will arrive, and have more reliable transportation thanks to the diagnostic systems.

"We've come a long way from having 18 buses have their wheels fall off," said state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, referring to the crisis of two years ago in which wheels fell off MTA buses at an alarming rate, injuring passengers and pedestrians.

"This system will print out [work orders] for shop managers," Flanagan said. "You'll avoid bus breakdowns, brake failures and buses going out without air conditioning or heating. That will all be dramatically improved."

The system will cost about $30,000 per bus to install. It will come installed on 230 buses the state plans to purchase over the next two years. An additional 500 in the fleet will be outfitted once a vendor contract is awarded.

About $35 million of the $50 million funding needed will come from reorganizing long-term technology projects in the state transportation budget. The other $15 million will be requested from the legislature this year.

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