Looks like the T has an opening for a research director

The T had a research director, with a doctorate in transportation from MIT and everything, but seems Bridj, that company planning the data-driven private shuttle service, just hired him away, the Globe reports.

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    I guess the job was not all he thought it would be

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    Leaving after 3 months and all that...

    But really, the MBTA does not need to be doing anything fancy. No real need for a "research director." What they need to be doing is applying the well-understood fundamentals of transit properly. And they do not currently do that as well as they could be.

    I have heard it said that the first law of American public transportation ought to be: "Don't innovate." In other words, the rest of the world has already figured out how to run transit services, and with literal centuries of experience backing it. Learn from their hard-won knowledge, the best practices developed over decades, don't try to invent new ones!


    1. Time is money. Delays are bad for customers and bad for management.
    2. Make it as easy and accessible as possible for people to board and alight from trains and buses. That means using ALL DOORS and LEVEL BOARDING! That means making stations easy to access from the street, with multiple entrances, instead of putting up fences and barriers everywhere! It is standard nowadays to implement Proof Of Payment for fare collection because of this principle.
    3. Frequency is king and reliability is queen. Trains and buses should show up every few minutes, and should do so on a consistent basis. Routes and signals should be designed to maximize reliability of schedule. That means using things like bus lanes, signal priority, optimized station spacing, opening all doors, having level boarding, and adding more frequent off-peak service.

    Fix the organization and management first, because that's cheapest. Then consider upgrades to electronics. And finally, if nothing else works, then consider physical changes to structures. This ain't complicated. It's been known since the 19th century. They just need to get motivated to do the right thing, instead of succumbing to institutional inertia.

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    Agree 1000%

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    Agree 1000%

    For instance, right now the T has 4 staff monitoring 100+ bus routes. There's no way they can keep track of which buses are bunched, late, or stuck in traffic. So it leads to situations such as the one I saw the other day where all five buses on the Sliver Line 4 were north of Tufts Medical at the same time. For the price of one egghead who thinks the future of transit is luxury buses driving around congested streets paralleling perfectly good bus (and rail) service that might need a bit of TLC, we could actually get people to make that bus and rail service better. The Green Line and heavily-used bus services lose so much efficiency because they spend so much of their time boarding everyone through one door and sitting at traffic lights while two cars and a bicycle cross the street (and remember: a full, three-car Green Line train carries 500 people, two cars and bicycle, maybe 5). With new leadership in the city of Boston (Mumbles was known to not be particularly impressed by transit) maybe it's time to implement some solutions which help transit, not try to beat it at its own game.

    (The T has put out the RFP for the Green Line real-time data; which won't be good news for Bridj, as the most infuriating part of the riding the Green Line—their targeted neighborhood—is its unpredictability.)

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    The T also has a small army

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    The T also has a small army of inspectors, but they don't do very much.

    Has anyone ever seen a T bus short-turned to solve a bunching issue?

    Yes

    By on

    I have seen rt 66 buses get turned around completely and sent back along the route.

    I agree

    By on

    I honestly don't know why there are no bus lanes in and around Boston. It makes so much sense. A previous city I have lived in (in another country) had entire bus ways that had their own tunnels to avoid traffic and "green" bridges that had cyclists on one side, buses only in the middle and pedestrians on the other side. It didn't connect up with a road on the other side (just a loop so the buses could pick up/drop off & turn around) to stop people from trying to drive their cars across. Even if they did, they had to go back over the bridge.

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    Washington Street has

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    Washington Street has dedicated bus lanes, and the Silver Line Waterfront uses a busway in a tunnel from South Station to Silver Line Way.

    And whenever they get around to it, the rebuild of Melnea Cass Blvd will include bus lanes.

    So while yes, we could use more, there are not "no bus lanes" in Boston.

    apologies

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    I didn't realise that Washington St had a bus lane and completely forgot about the silver line bus way... But where are the highway bus lanes? It felt so good to be in a bus and sail past all the traffic In your own lane and get to your destination much faster. Also makes the drivers re-evaluate why they are driving!

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    Well the Boston MPO did a

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    Well the Boston MPO did a study of converting an existing travel lane to an HOV/bus lane on local highways, and they concluded that the impact on the general traffic lanes would be too high. I almost fell of my chair, I was laughing so hard at that one. So I guess if we want more HOV/bus lanes on our highways, we'll just have to demolish a few thousand buildings instead!

    "Taking away an existing lane to create a preferential lane would not be considered unless negative impacts on traffic in the general-purpose lanes were acceptably small. No locations met this criterion; therefore so-called “snatch-a-lane” strategies were not recommended."

    http://www.bostonmpo.org/Drupal/data/transreport/html/trpt0313.html#s5

    MPO d'oh

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    Yeah, that article is a real disgrace on the part of the MPO. They made the elementary error of thinking only in terms of "vehicles per hour per lane" instead of "people per hour per lane." It seems that our "esteemed" MPO does not understand the number one reason that HOV/bus lanes exist in the first place!

    all I will say is

    By on

    All I will say is.. its a bit more to that. And that's all I will (and can) say.. :)

    That and.. there's a lot more to the T that means the eye...

    I have heard it said that the

    By on

    I have heard it said that the first law of American public transportation ought to be: "Don't innovate." In other words, the rest of the world has already figured out how to run transit services, and with literal centuries of experience backing it. Learn from their hard-won knowledge, the best practices developed over decades, don't try to invent new ones!

    The problem with this idea is that if every transit agency adopted the philosophy of "don't innovate", then no one would innovate, and we'd never get new technology.

    Make it as easy and accessible as possible for people to board and alight from trains and buses. That means using ALL DOORS and LEVEL BOARDING!

    I agree about using all doors - when drivers actually do front door only on the Green Line (which I've only actually encountered once in the past 6 months) it can easily take up to 5 minutes just to board everyone at a single station, making it significantly faster just to walk. And the T would like to implement level boarding everywhere on the commuter rail and green line, but that is just not financially feasible. All new construction is, but rebuilding every single station that isn't would cost hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. The T doesn't have that money, and if it did there are probably better things to spend it on.

    It is standard nowadays to implement Proof Of Payment for fare collection because of this principle.

    Actually, not really. Yes, POP is commonly used, but not on busy urban systems. POP works for commuter rail and some light rail and bus systems, but not so much for rapid transit or particularly busy lines. Case in point, the LACMTA (Los Angeles) recently installed faregates at every subway station, and where possible at light rail stations, after having operated with POP since inception. The rate of fare evasion was too high.
    It's already easy enough to ride the green line without paying, making it easier would only result in fewer people paying their fares.

    Fix the organization and management first, because that's cheapest. Then consider upgrades to electronics. And finally, if nothing else works, then consider physical changes to structures. This ain't complicated. It's been known since the 19th century. They just need to get motivated to do the right thing, instead of succumbing to institutional inertia.

    Changing management is not going to do a damn thing to fix the crumbling, outdated infrastructure. I don't see how you can possibly argue that we only need to consider physical changes as a last resort. You must not regularly ride the T.

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    Innovation is for those who know what they're doing

    By on

    The problem with this idea is that if every transit agency adopted the philosophy of "don't innovate", then no one would innovate, and we'd never get new technology.

    I say this for the same reason that you do not expect a struggling Algebra student to innovate in mathematics. Unlike a student, when American transit agencies try to "innovate" they just end up wasting taxpayer money. That's how you end up with crazy ideas like monorails and hyperloops, meanwhile the basic train and bus service degrades, or can barely run at all. Let the experts think about innovation, we need to play catch-up.

    And the T would like to implement level boarding everywhere on the commuter rail and green line, but that is just not financially feasible.

    I agree that it can be a challenge financially, but (a) the T is required by law to make all stations accessible, which for the Green Line means 8" platforms to ADA and AAB specs, (b) level boarding is one of the best overall investments you can make in operations: it improves trip time, reliability of schedules, and accessibility all in one. A program to incrementally bring level boarding to the entire system, over time, pays off tremendously and is exactly the sort of "boring fundamental" in which the T should be investing.

    Actually, not really. Yes, POP is commonly used, but not on busy urban systems. POP works for commuter rail and some light rail and bus systems, but not so much for rapid transit or particularly busy lines.

    Not true, POP is used by many American systems such as San Francisco MUNI, Houston's MetroRail, San Diego, Seattle Sound Link, St Louis, VTA, the list goes on, etc. POP is also used by all German transit agencies, and many other European systems, and they handle much higher volumes of travel than American cities. This is not to say that fare gates cannot work -- obviously they can be used. But in the context of surface light rail or buses, they are extremely expensive and it's not clear that they are worth the investment.

    Case in point, the LACMTA (Los Angeles) recently installed fare gates at every subway station, and where possible at light rail stations, after having operated with POP since inception.

    That was more of political theater than technical merit. As fare gates and fare policy tend to be. It's often about perception rather than reality. In this country, sometimes it is about racial politics, too, unfortunately.

    POP is implemented with 96%+ compliance rates in other American cities. I don't know what LACMTA was doing wrong, but I do know that they still use a hybrid system of fare gates and POP now, much like SF MUNI.

    Speaking of SF MUNI, here's an infamous video of just how useless their fare gates are at stopping fare evasion. So much for that investment, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment, and you can defeat it by waving your hand.

    It's already easy enough to ride the green line without paying, making it easier would only result in fewer people paying their fares

    Doesn't this statement dispute your other assertion? If it's "already easy enough to ride the green line without paying" doesn't that mean that our current system of fare gates and fare boxes is not working and is just a waste of money and time?

    What we need is not "innovation" but rather management that pays attention to data, best practices, and has the courage of its conviction to stand up for the best interest of the riders.

    Changing management is not going to do a damn thing to fix the crumbling, outdated infrastructure. I don't see how you can possibly argue that we only need to consider physical changes as a last resort. You must not regularly ride the T.

    I ride the T every day, usually multiple times a day. Fixing infrastructure is one thing, obviously we need maintenance, but that is not what I meant in my last paragraph. I was talking about making improvements beyond bare maintenance, in which case, management practices are a low hanging fruit and very ripe for picking. Fare collection policy mostly goes under this category, although that does also involve some equipment. One person train operation (the T has slowly been rolling this out). Pushing for additional bus lanes (paint is cheap). Taking fewer than 4 years to roll out simple bus stop improvements (and considering the same for trolleys).

    Electronics improvements are relatively cheap and could help a great deal: for example, installation of bus/trolley detectors near traffic signals and then wiring them into the traffic signal control system. Instead the T seems to jump for the most expensive, radical and potentially destructive changes first: consider Melnea Cass Blvd where BTD and the MBTA are proposing to widen the street by 25+ feet just to add bus lanes for urban ring buses that don't even exist yet. Meanwhile we haven't expanded the number nor frequency of CT bus routes since forever, even though that phase originally called for much more.

    There are some things worth doing that require unavoidable structural modification (such as level boarding) but it would be awfully ironic to fix platforms and then not use them properly because of moronic policies such as "front door only."

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    Don't hire me for marketing

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    "Bridj: R&D by the guy who used to run the T".

    ;-)

    Just teasing you, Bridj. Me, I like regular buses just fine, but if you succeed in getting some spoiled people out of their plush SUV seats and into your limo seats... Well it's probably better for everyone. Best of luck!

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    MBTA Dedicated Bus Way is an oxymoron

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    The silver line bus way is full of vehicles double and triple parked and the shelters have become condos for junkies and drunks

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    Improvements based on rider observations

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    If the Twitter complaints concerning T service were gathered together by an group or agency separate from the T could that information shed light on how the T could improve?

    I see little things everyday which I think could improve the system. Making sure there are attendants at stations to reduce fare evaders (Green St. often is missing an attendant at late rush hour). Speeding up driver changes so that they don't require 3 to 5 minute delays especially during rush hour could reduce both later delays and inefficiencies (such as two trains 1 minute apart resulting in one crowded and one empty train).

    As a rider I see plenty of ways to improve the system. Use express trains and buses when there is bunching, require drivers to be ready at the station or stop for changes, require attendants to actually do their job instead of sitting in their booths reading a Bible ignoring what is happening around them.

    But I don't trust T management to pay attention. The Orange line has some of the worst air conditioning. For a year I would report trains which were too hot (especially when compared to Red line cars). Yet no response was issued and nothing was done (though last year there did seem to finally be improvement).

    So perhaps by using Twitter as the means for accumulating data an independent citizens group - or a private group looking to use this data - could get the T to work better.

    Perhaps this information could also be used to pressure elected leaders to focus more on the T. They are the source of funds. When new funds can improve the system - especially for projects that will not require another decade (e.g., new trains) rider collected data - and the implied votes - might help persuade elected officials to pay more attention to strengthening public transportation instead of treating it as an unwanted stepchild.

    How will this improve the system?

    By on

    Making sure there are attendants at stations to reduce fare evaders (Green St. often is missing an attendant at late rush hour).

    It costs almost $100/hour in wages+benefits to hire a person to stand at the station and watch it. Furthermore, that expenditure does nothing to help the trains or buses run on time nor frequently.

    What's the point? Besides fulfilling your moralist fantasy of catching those dastardly fare evaders, it actually costs more money to catch them than it does to let a small percentage get away. If a business ran that way, they'd be out of business quick. You can't spend more money than you make, no matter how upsetting the fare evasion is.

    This is the kind of pointless political game that gets played with the T. Money gets plunged into measures that do not provide a return, nor increased efficiency. Because some influential person "thought it would be a good idea" or because some arithmetically-challenged citizens yammered about it.

    Also goes to show how useless fare gates are, if you have to hire a person at nearly $100/hour to watch them, or else they become a joke.