Have you been reading about those private SF shuttles and sighing in envy?

Ed. note: I'm still not 100% convinced this is not a left-over April Fool's joke. But I learned about it through an ad in my Facebook news feed last night, and who actually spends money on a prank?

Bridj says it's getting up to launch an alternative to the T that will feature limo buses with plush seats, "an attendant who can provide you with a curated selection of snacks and beverages" and fees you might be able to deduct from your taxes.

Bridge says it goes live next month with non-stop service between key points in the Boston area for the monied technorati, specifically, Brookline, the Back Bay, Harvard Square and Kendall Square. Initially, it's looking at several runs in each rush hour, but adds:

When fully launched, service will be available every 10 minutes from each pillar in Boston.

The idea of a private alternative to public transit, even in Boston, is not exactly new: In addition to university shuttles and the Longwood Medical Area buses, Southie Shuttle offers service to people in South Boston who don't want to lose their "precious parking space painstakingly found after work" just to go out to eat, along with service to South Station.

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Public Transit was historically private or private/public

Most of the rail lines, trolleys, etc. were owned by private companies at one point.

The buses in SF are real - I have a friend that takes one. They run both into the city from the suburbs, and out of the city to suburban locations. There have even been blockades by neighborhood groups in SF who are fighting escalating rents as the buses make it possible for people who pull down big salaries at suburban jobs to spend their housing money in SF.

http://www.theverge.com/2013/12/20/5231758/protesters-target-silicon-val...

Boston actually has private commuter bus shuttles already - privately run buses go from North Station to Salisbury, and Southern NH several times a day. I suspect there are some from other locations (I just know about these because I have coworkers who use them).

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True

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But do they have a carefully curated selection of snacks? That's what sold me.

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Could you provide more

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Could you provide more information about the North Station commuter buses?

Are they different from the Boston Express, Concord Coach, and C&J Trailways scheduled buses which serve South Station?

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Interesting

Looks like they consolidated a bunch of them into South Station only.

I'll ask around the office - this may be a private commuter club charter. I know at least one person heads north to catch their ride.

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There are differences between

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There are differences between privately run shuttles open to the public (as these are seemingly going to be) and privately run shuttles that are not (like the google buses). Private buses open to the public can be a good thing, complementing public transit, but private buses using public ways for loading and unloading are more questionable, in my mind.

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Why is that more questionable

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Why is that more questionable than private cars using public ways for loading and unloading? Just because it's a bus?

Both are subject to reasonable regulation. For example, double-parking is supposedly illegal.

With the SF protesters that you allude to, I think that some of the motivation behind them is really just anti-bus animus, in general. You might notice that there is a very strange blind spot in their antics: the protesters completely ignore the private cars that block up the streets, obstructing MUNI vehicles. Instead, they focus entirely on the private buses. Most of those protesters probably drive their own cars and don't give a damn about public transit.

If the Google buses didn't exist, then all those employees would use private cars to get to work. I used to know people over there who did drive back and forth from SF, and they are the target market for the private buses. SF, contrary to what you might think, is actually a relatively car-friendly town. If you are pulling down a tech salary then owning a car and a parking space is no big thing. And all those parking spaces make affordable housing even harder to build.

In short: the SF bus protesters are either insanely stupid, or outright malevolent.

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SF anti-bus protestors

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The protests against the Google buses in San Francisco are more about the perception that they allow highly-paid Silicon Valley workers to live in the city, bidding up rents, without having to commute to work on BART or MUNI with the hoi polloi. Obviously, San Francisco's real problem is an anti-development mentality that prevents new housing from being built.

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It's private buses vs driving

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The protests against the Google buses in San Francisco are more about the perception that they allow highly-paid Silicon Valley workers to live in the city, bidding up rents, without having to commute to work on BART or MUNI with the hoi polloi.

No, my point is that those tech workers have enough cash to burn that the alternative to the "Google buses" is driving, not public transit. The protesters are either fools for not realizing that, or are actually just anti-bus because they think it gets in the way of their cars. Knowing SF -- the natural habitat of the limousine liberal -- I believe that it is the latter.

Caltrain, BART and MUNI do not effectively serve the commuting needs of Silicon Valley. Unless you happen to live close to 4th and King or 22nd Street stations, Caltrain is almost completely unworkable. BART opens up some more options but it does not go far enough south and would require a shuttle bus from Milbrae, about 25 miles away from Mountain View and many of the other office locations in Santa Clara county.

I could get into a whole discussion about the various stupidities of Bay Area transit agencies, but it's not really relevant. I will just say that they make the MBTA look like a model of efficiency sometimes.

Obviously, San Francisco's real problem is an anti-development mentality that prevents new housing from being built.

Absolutely right. It's that limousine liberal mentality again. And it also applies to the rest of the Peninsula, where a crappy single family home can be sold for a million dollars.

It's also about the zoning craziness that prevents companies from establishing offices along existing transit lines and forces them out into massive office parks with no good connections. Places like Kendall Square just don't exist, and the towns where they could, such as University Ave in Palo Alto, actively try to sabotage such efforts.

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The privately run lines are

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The privately run lines are most likely run as an employee benefit / employee retention strategy. i.e. they're run at a loss.

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Alewife

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There are a ton of private shuttles going in and out of Alewife.

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I'd love to see some private

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I'd love to see some private transit innovation around here. But I can't see this particular plan getting over the insurmountable obstacles:

1) City regulators who would never allow such a thing. For example, Cambridge has shut down plenty of bus services in the past, by denying them jitney licenses.

2) Labor costs, while keeping prices not that much higher than public transit. They're even hiring an attendant to sit on the bus handing out snacks.

3) Traffic. They're serving the most congested parts of the city at rush hour. How are they going to save passengers an hour per day compared to the train, and avoid driving their hourly costs through the roof?

4) They promise a nonstop ride. That means no intermediate stops, which means only a few places will be served. If you don't live within walking distance of Coolidge Corner or the Pru, there goes your time savings.

5) I assume they're planning to prevent overcrowding, since they're selling a premium service. Maybe this type of bus wouldn't even allow standees by law. However they do it (taking reservations, running more buses), their average load factor is going to be very low, making it even harder to make money.

There's a reason why privately-run local bus lines all went out of business more than 50 years ago.

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"This Spring, Bridj will

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"This Spring, Bridj will change the way the world works. Scroll down to learn why the world will never be the same."

word? I thought it was just shuttles for rich folks, but I guess that idea works too...

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Hourly?

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On such short hops, frequency is important. I doubt an hourly shutlle will be terribly useful to most (get stuck at work 5 minutes late, and suddenly you have to wait 55+ minutes for the next one)?

That is acceptable for a longer commuter rai ride, but not for Cambridge to Brookline.

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Citizens Connect?

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Is there more than one Southie Shuttle bus? Just asking...I don't know. Have you reported this issue through Citizens Connect, or tried to speak with the sponsor(s) directly?

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Since mass transit is far

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Since mass transit is far more efficient at carrying people than cars, it should be given special accommodations for parking.

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You're more than qualified!

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You're more than qualified! Email us. We're all Middlebury college folks...

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Sigh

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$40,000 tuition for four years, and still: whoosh.

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Just to be clear, we don't

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Just to be clear, we don't have a snack and beverage curator. Our sarcasm seemed to have "whooshed" right on by you....

Matt

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How do you have curated

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How do you have curated snacks without a snack curator? They don't curate themselves, you know.

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There is a price point where

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There is a price point where if they had one of these going from Quincy Center to Kendall I'd be on board and this makes me feel horrible and bourgeoisie. Honestly I'd be happy with a no frills one that was reliable haha

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Thanks!

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Hey Guys,

Thanks for all of your great comments. Today has been a little nuts for us, but I'll try to have our team respond to each individually.

The long and short of it is that we are backed by some pretty incredible investors who are in it with us for the long haul - our goal is to fundamentally change the way public transit works.

Secondly, the trial period has buses leaving every hour, but fully ramped up, the shuttles will depart every 5-10 minutes. The system is smart in the fact that it routes each bus along the shortest route using real time traffic data. Based on high-fidelity simulations that we've been running over the past months, an average commuter in Boston will save anywhere from 22 49 minutes EACH WAY using the network.

We're incredibly excited about offering alternative transportation that reduces cars and increases community options.

Thanks so much, and keep the questions coming.
Matt

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If you think you're going to

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If you think you're going to save 49 minutes between Coolidge and Harvard just by not making stops, then I have a bridj to sell you.

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Data on data on data.

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Hey anonymous (that sounds rather ominous doesn't it?),

The averages are based off of millions of data points that are collected through real time transit and traffic data. Don't believe it? The average drive time in the morning between Coolidge and a place like Kendall is around 15 minutes during the morning rush, as compared with anywhere from 56-58 on average using regular transit.

Thanks for the questions, and keep 'em coming!

-Matt

PS - If you have a Bridj to sell us, we will only purchase it if it leads to better commutes for Bostonians. Otherwise, no dice. Sorry.

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56-58 minutes?

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I have trouble believing that. Typical Green/Red connection from Coolidge Corner to Kendall during peak period should be about 30 minutes.

Where are you getting your data? There is no real-time data available to the public for the Green Line, as of yet...

Not to discourage you or anything. I am interested to see how it works out.

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Hey Matt,

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Hey Matt,

We manually do timing on the green line, corroborate that user input data, and then triple check with open data sources like Google Transit.

Don't believe it yet? Run a quick search in Google maps, select transit as the option, and you'll see that on a typical weekday, Google is reporting trip lengths from Coolidge Corner to Kendall anywhere from 46-56 minutes.

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Doesn't match my query

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I double-checked to be sure, but when I run a "Directions" query in Google Maps, from "Coolidge Corner" to "Kendall Square" I get several options, all about 30-35 minutes by Public Transit mode at 8 a.m. on a Monday. That travel time includes a walking segment of the trip, too.

I stand by my gut instinct estimate of about 30 minutes from Coolidge Corner station to Kendall station.

I am glad to hear that you are collecting your own data. I will be interested to see how your new bus service works out for you and wish you nothing but the best of luck.

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Google Maps's transit

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Google Maps's transit directions don't include waiting time for the first leg.

That's fine when you're catching a scheduled service (assuming the schedule works for you). But nobody pulls out their Green Line schedule to see when to head down to the station.

Google's trip times also use the T's official scheduled times, and don't account for delays.

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Show up and go

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The "C" shows up every 6 minutes at rush hour, so frequent that nobody would ever bother checking a schedule anyway. That's better than a scheduled service for which if you miss the schedule then you're screwed.

Delays can affect any kind of service, so, whatever?

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Delays can occur with

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Delays can occur with anything. But some modes and routes typically have longer delays than others. My experience with the Green Line at rush hour is that you're going to spend much more time on (and waiting for) the trolley than the official schedule says.

Bridj's numbers are averages of actual people's commute times. That includes delays, while Google Maps's official MBTA schedule times don't.

I would post some data from the MBTA Scorecard, http://mbta.com/about_the_mbta/scorecard/ , but they don't seem to report Green Line on-time performance.

Service every 6 minutes is great. But if you're comparing driving times and transit times, the transit time needs to include the wait for the first leg (add 6 if you need to arrive by a certain time; add 3 if you're calculating the average commute), which Google Maps doesn't do.

Another flaw in Google Maps is that it cherry-picks perfectly timed connections. This isn't a problem in the case we're discussing, since the Green and Red Lines run very frequently. But in other cases, Google's results might include a very infrequent bus or commuter rail run, which wouldn't work if one leg is a few minutes late.

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Another flaw in Google Maps

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Another flaw in Google Maps is that it cherry-picks perfectly timed connections.

Not really. Google maps transit seems to have a minimum connection time built in. It appears that there is a 5 minute minimum transfer at Park Street, for instance. However, the Red-Green connection is quite easy, so (assuming normal service) 5 minutes is just about the maximum you'll have to wait for a Red Line train (which run on 4 minute headways at rush hour). In other words, most likely Google Maps will give you a worst case scenario for your trip. Since the Gmaps times come in in the 32-35 minute range, you're really looking at 27-32 assuming you walk at a decent clip to the stairs. (There are certainly stations where this is not the case, like going from Blue to Orange southbound at State Street, and several in New York City, but Park Street is relatively compact.)

The T could do two things to dramatically speed up service on the Green Line, of course: all-door boarding (especially at busy stops like Coolidge) and signal priority. It also has an RFP out for real-time information for the Green Line, so the trains will operate on more of a schedule—or at least the public will be able to see when a train is coming and minimize wait times.

As far as the claims that the average travel time is 56-58 minutes, that's spurious at best. (You can walk from Coolidge to Kendall in an hour.) That assumes what: a 10 minute wait for the Green Line, a 30 minute ride to Park Street, a 10 minute transfer there and an 8 minute ride to Kendall. That doesn't add up (well, it adds up, but it is not really in reality.) Certainly there are days when system break downs lengthen the trip, but this is an exception, not a rule. And buses will not be immune to traffic delays, either. (To say nothing of finding pick-up and drop-off locations, access them, and getting each city to approve a license—the city councilors can be finicky about that.)

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