The smartest cities aren’t dumping all their brainpower into autonomous vehicles and gondolas. They are thinking about how to revamp outdated bus systems. And they’re using technology to do it. Take Boston as Exhibit A.
Boston is using modeling from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to both improve trips for existing passengers and bring new riders on board.
“If you were to look at a 1920s streetcar map of Boston, the [bus] route network doesn’t look too different today,” says Scott Hamwey, manager of long range planning at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. “We haven’t really updated our service plan in seven or eight years now, so this will be an opportunity to determine where demand has shifted.”
But tracking exactly where people are taking the bus, and where they want to take the bus, is no easy task. While ride-hail companies like Uber know exactly where and when its customers travel, transit operators like the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, known as the T, have to piece together information from different internal data sets.
Most transit riders in the Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods south of downtown Boston, for example, lack access to high-frequency rail service, leaving them with slower buses and forcing them to make additional transfers, according to an analysis by former MIT graduate student Raphael Dumas, who used an earlier version of ODX. “The network is not currently configured to serve trips from Black or African American [census] tracts very well,” he wrote in his thesis. “Shorter distances should not require more transfers.” Dumas recommended merging some routes to eliminate the need for transfers and establishing more consistent schedules to facilitate easy transfers.