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Do you depend on public transportation to get around Boston? Are you frustrated by slow, crowded buses and trains that don't go where you need to go? If so, check this out: a young entrepreneur named Matthew George is launching a "pop up" bus service in Boston that he says will use smart technology to know where people are and where they want to go.
His new smart transit system is called Bridj. It will launch some trial routes from Brookline, Cambridge and Boston's Back Bay in May.
The rides cost a little more than the T, but the buses will have comfy seats, free wi-fee, snacks, drinks and will use big data to avoid traffic.
On the concept behind Bridj:
Matthew George: "Boston was the first city in the United States to have a modern mass transportation system with the advent of the green line tunnel in 1897. Historically, Boston has always been on the forefront of public transit. Between 1897 and right now, there's been some marginal improvements in how service is delivered to move massive amounts of people throughout a city, but there hasn't been any quantum leap in technology or re-imagining how a system works. What we're doing is developing a data-driven mass transportation system. In a nutshell, what that means is we're crunching about 4 and 6 million data points to essentially find out where people live and where people work. Once we know where they live and where they work, we can essentially extrapolate most of the major commuting patterns. And instead of forcing people to conform to traditional mass transportation systems, we can have the transportation system conform to where people are actually moving using some technology that's really come out over the past three and five years."
On what Bridj will add to our current transportation mix:
MG: "We are actually backed by a lot of the major investors who started Zipcar and we view it as a spectrum. On one far end of the spectrum you have public transportation, the MBTA, which is never going to go away. We don't even view ourselves as a competitor to the MBTA. And on the other end of the spectrum you have very, very highly personalized service. Things like personal vehicles, things like Uber, things like Zipcar. Things that are relatively, as compared with public transportation, pretty high cost for a single use. But there's a massive area in the middle that is ripe for a very data-driven and smart mass transportation system."
On what the buses will be like:
MG: "The big value add that we have for our users is being able to do these data-driven routes. So, by doing these data-driven routes, we're able to cut people's commute times on average, on some of our routes, by about 30 or 40 minutes each way. The biggest advantage of using a bus like this is a lot of people are getting an hour of their lives back each day. So the ancillary benefits, like you were talking about, our comfy leather seats, tray tables that fold down so you can put your iPad, your laptop on there. And each one of the buses is equipped with three LTE wifi hotspots. While, as much as we would like to, we can't ever predict traffic — buses are naturally going to get stuck in traffic — you can commute in relative comfort and still be productive and connected in with your world."
On what our future looks like in terms of big data use in transportation:
MG: "As we've seen over the past two and three years, the trend in a lot of technology has been towards data. Uber, really their core value proposition and what makes them very, very valuable, not just monetarily but also to the communities that they serve, is having a very big data back-end. They predict where people are going to move and implement pop-up car service. Where we think we're going is smaller and smaller vehicles. This is the low-hanging fruit, of taking commuters from high-capacity residential areas to high-demand commercial areas. And then over the next 18 months we're going to get smaller and smaller in terms of vehicle size. So, instead of large buses, our eventual goal is to get down to 10-passenger vans. And that way you can connect micro-commutes. You can connect people who are traveling, let's say, from Coolidge Corner to the bar in Cambridgeport on a Friday night. And our eventual goal is to be able to get down to the point where we can deploy automated vehicle technology on those routes. The folks over at Google are working on some really fantastic stuff of driverless cars and driverless vehicles and we think that's the future. That's going to gain a lot more consumer traction in the small van market before it gains traction in the individual vehicle market. Our end goal here is not to provide a better commuter bus, but our goal is to provide a living, breathing, learning, smart mass transportation system that we can eventually deploy automated vehicles on to really change, for the first time in 100 years, how mass transportation works in the United States."
This story aired on April 18, 2014.
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