There are dozens of MBTA apps out there for commuters. But now, only one — the aptly named Transit App — has the agency's official endorsement.
As we previously reported, the T says officially endorsing one app will help improve service. The idea is that by having more people use one app, the agency will have access to more data on transit conditions through its partnership with the app company.
Back in July, the T launched a contest to pick a third-party app. Last month, the finalists presented their apps at a public forum. Transit App beat out three other contenders -- Moovit, Swiftly and Moovel — and will be promoted by the MBTA and featured on the agency's website.
Transit App utilizes the T's open real-time data, featuring upcoming departure times for all nearby transit, as well as a trip planner that shows you the best route to take. The app also has an offline mode that allows riders to access schedules even while underground, without data or service. And so you don't miss your stop, it also enables riders to set up notifications for stops on their route. The app further includes ride-hailing and bike-share options.
The company has also been piloting a feature in Pittsburgh (that will soon come to Boston) that lets riders chat with each other and the MBTA about commuting conditions.
In a statement, the acting-MBTA General Manager Brian Shortsleeve touted the app as being "incredibly user-friendly."
"It greatly improves the customer experience, which was paramount when selecting a winner,” Shortsleeve said. "Partnering with Transit App also ensures that our customers will have an easy and convenient way to provide feedback, which helps the MBTA continue to improve its service."
We caught up with Transit Apps' director of strategy and development, Jake Sion, to talk more about the app's features. Here's what Sion had to say about what riders can expect (lightly edited):
How will your app help MBTA commuters?
As soon as you launch the app you’ll see all the nearby departures times displayed boldly, which is the information the commuter needs most. We think that's what people care about on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, we also have powerful features: We integrate Uber and Hubway. We offer full trip planning that allows you to compare how to get from A to B. We have an offline mode, which means that if you don’t have data connection or you don’t have a cellphone data plan, you’ll be able to find information, including schedules and route maps when you’re not connected. These are things that we think that riders will value and enjoy when using our app.
How is your app different than the dozens of other MBTA apps that are currently available?
There are quite a number of differences, but it always gets back to the key point, which is that the experience for the commuter — when you open the app ... when you need to check when your bus or train is arriving — is really at the core of our design, and that’s what matters most for people who are taking the T day in and day out.
You're piloting a chat feature in Pittsburgh that allows commuters to communicate with each other and with the transit agency about issues, will that be available in Boston? And when?
One of the things that we’re excited to collaborate with the MBTA on is the ability to allow riders to directly report issues to one another and directly report them to the MBTA. So, this is in development and our new version of this feature will be launched in Boston later this year or early next year. We’re very excited to work with them on that.
How has that pilot program gone in Pittsburgh?
The pilot has gone really well. We’ve seen thousands of riders reporting issues. We’re seeing thousands of comments coming in every single week — everything from riders reporting that there was an accident so their bus is delayed, to bus bunching on their stop to inaccurate real-time information and when the bus might actually arrive. It's really valuable when there’s some sort of big disruption where even the agency might not necessarily know what’s going on.
What feature do you think will standout to T riders?
One thing that’s particularly nice beyond having the next departures with the predictions [is] I think riders have come to learn in Boston that sometimes predictions aren't always 100 percent precise so riders also have the ability to go into a map view and actually see the bus approaching on a map just like you would with an Uber. We think it's a pretty nice thing to be able to actually track the position of your vehicle in a nice, easy and intuitive way.
Now that Transit App has been endorsed by the MBTA, what happens next?
The MBTA will be promoting us all across their website and offline channels and telling riders that this is the app that they think will give them the best experience while riding the T. On our side, we’re going to continue to collaborate with the T around sharing app usage data to support some of their planning and operations initiatives as well as some other features that are pretty exciting.