So, it doesn’t quite have the breezy rhyme of the children’s song, but Boston’s transit agency is more concerned by making bus passengers happy. After the schedule data for five bus routes were made available this year, application developers started building text-message alerts, Twitter feeds and other tools to notify commuters about traffic or service delays. The apps were built so quickly the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority decided to release all its bus schedule data and use some advanced real-time systems for analyzing andforecasting when your bus will arrive.
A single bus route may be comprised of many smaller segments with unique traffic patterns, said MBTA General Manager Rich Davey. That’s why his buses are equipped with gear from California-based Nextbus — tracking devices that report via radio where the bus is and the speed of travel. Software uses timestamps to show where it speeds or crawls. Over time, the system “learns” which days, times or routes are fast or slow and that business intelligence translates into a schedule that is more predictable and manageable — not just based on the time a bus leaves the depot.
NextBus serves dozens of bus and campus shuttle vehicles with the tools to provide estimates for when a bus will arrive at a specific stop or location. And armed with that data, commuters won’t be standing waiting at the curb staring off into the distance, predicts Joshua Robin, the Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation official who got this program rolling.
Data for nearly two dozen bus routes covering more than 30 percent of the daily bus riders will be made available, he said. Similar ventures have succeeded in Washington DC and Chicago — giving travelers time to do more productive things. And the apps were built precisely because the agency made the data freely available. And it would not have the budget or expertise to create its own applications if it had tried controlling or protecting the data. Eventually, Robin predicts all of Boston’s 185 bus routes will be monitored this way. And the improvements in service will attract riders when they have more accurate estimates for the time needed on a particular trip.
How are you analyzing today’s business patterns for service changes that will lure customers tomorrow?
Spotfire Blogging Team
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