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Screens Show Real-Time Transit Schedules

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The experimental real-time transit screen at Java Hut in Arlington.
Emily Friedman
The experimental real-time transit screen at Java Hut in Arlington.

New monitors are going up around the region to help commuters take their pick of bike, bus, or train -- anything but a car. The digital screens display real-time transit schedules and as Emily Friedman reports commuters may be seeing a lot more of them.

Dale Roberts, owner of the Java Shack, in Clarendon, has his digital screen on a shelf near the cash register.

"That's such the perfect spot for it, for people to look up at it while they're waiting for their coffee or whatever," says Roberts.

They've had the screen for a few weeks now, and already, some of his customers and staff are relying on it.

"One of my employees uses it, because he closes every night, and he catches the bus," Roberts says. "So, he knows he can look up there and say, 'I have 5 minutes to get out of here and catch the next bus home.' So he uses it every night."

The displays show all the available transportation options nearby: Capitol Bikeshare bikes, Metro trains, ART buses, and Metro busses, and exactly how many minutes until they arrive. The data refreshes every 20 seconds.

"It s very accurate, as a matter of fact, we tested it yesterday," says Roberts. "He [his eomployee] came in, and the bus that he just got off of changed to zero as he was walking through the door."

And that reliability is exactly what this project is all about.

"One of the biggest challenges to riding the bus, is that often people don t know exactly where the bus is or where it s going," says David Alpert, who's managing the project for Arlington County Commuter Services. He's also the founder of Greater Greater Washington, a blog about urban planning and transportation.

"Maybe the bus got rerouted, maybe there s a 30 minute wait and you're cold, and you don't want to wait," says Alpert.

Reliable information, he says, boosts confidence in public transit and may lead to more people choosing mass transit over driving.

"Ultimately what would be great is to have a screen on every block or street corner, so people walking into a shop can immediate see when the bus is coming," he says.

While the feedback has been positive thus far, Alpert says they're still not sure how much each screen will cost and who'll be paying the bill.

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