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Transportation

'Pop-Up' Bus Service Learns Boston Riders' Rhythms, Creates Routes Accordingly 51

Posted by timothy
from the it's-like-some-sort-of-hand-you-can't-see dept.
moglito (1355533) writes with this story about a new take on bus service in Boston, as reported by the New York Times: 'This new-old method of transport has comfortable seats and Wi-Fi. But its real innovation is in its routing. It is a "pop up" bus service, with routes dictated by millions of bits of data that show where people are and where they need to go. The private service uses chartered buses and is run by a start-up technology company called Bridj.' 'Bridj collects millions of bits of data about people's commutes from Google Earth, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn, the census, municipal records and other sources. "We crunch these millions and millions of data points through a number of algorithms that are existing, or that we're refining, to tell us where people are living and working," Mr. George said. "And through our special sauce, we're able to determine how a city moves."'
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'Pop-Up' Bus Service Learns Boston Riders' Rhythms, Creates Routes Accordingly

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  • by who_stole_my_kidneys (1956012) on Friday June 06, 2014 @06:31PM (#47184027)
    Everyone is going to the strip club, the a fast food restaurant late at night.
  • "And through our special sauce, we're able to determine how a city moves."'

    I guess this is the only way one is going to get In n Out in Boston. But then there's the word "through", so I don't know if I want to know what they're doing.

    • "And through our special sauce, we're able to determine how a city moves."'

      I guess this is the only way one is going to get In n Out in Boston. But then there's the word "through", so I don't know if I want to know what they're doing.

      They're obviously including the millions of bits in their special sauce, and focusing on the bowels of the city.

    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

      "And through our special sauce, we're able to determine how a city moves."'

      I guess this is the only way one is going to get In n Out in Boston. But then there's the word "through", so I don't know if I want to know what they're doing.

      It really isn't a bad idea. I live in a neighborhood that is well populated by likely bus riders. I really wanted to use the bus service. Unfortunately, the bus that hits campus near me came either 45 minutes before the end of the day, or 45 minutes after. So when I tried to use the bus service, I had to take the 45 minute after work time. Then the bus would take a trip around campus, then downtown, then a couple miles up from my place to a shopping center. Then a circuitous rout that eventually dropped me

      • by Dthief (1700318)
        get a bike.... 10 min commute, and your schedule is yours to control
      • by GodGell (897123)

        By the way, do the math. At a walking speed of 4 miles per hour, I would be home before the initial 45 minute wait for the bus. Never mind the crazy quilt route they took.

        So now that you've done the math, why don't you just walk? :)
        That's not that much. Plus you get a better experience than just sitting on a bus.

  • by goombah99 (560566) on Friday June 06, 2014 @06:34PM (#47184055)

    Won't get fooled again. Um this is what bus planners have always done with the best available data, in setting routes.

    • by PPH (736903)

      This kind of analysis completely misses politician's motivation to move people where they (the politicians) want them to go.

      I mean, it does me no good if I own a shopping mall and I contribute to the city council's campaign funds to get bus routes to my mall. But then some geek number crunchers find out that the people want to shop at my competitor's mall. So they schedule more routes going there instead. I mean, where's the justice?

    • by Livius (318358)

      It would have been nice if they had explained what "pop-up" was supposed to mean in this context, and how (or whether) it was different from any other fixed route service. It sounds like the only difference is that it was less crowded than the subway (presumably because it cost three times as much).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rsborg (111459)

      Won't get fooled again. Um this is what bus planners have always done with the best available data, in setting routes.

      Sure, but if a bus got me close enough to my commute pattern that it was more comfortable than driving (and all that entails: driving in traffic, finding parking, keeping my car maintained, paying for gas), then I'd be very interested.

      Of course, with increased flexibility, I could find myself not on their route next month or next year due to residence moves, job changes, or office re-locations.

    • In my city they have planned to routes and stops so that nobody has to walk more than a certain distance to a bus stop. Has nothing to do with demand for the service.
      • by jonbryce (703250)

        But does this bus go where you want it to go, or would you need to take the bus to the central bus station, and another one back out in almost the same direction to a stop not particularly far away from you?

        • Most of the routes run around throughout a part of the city from one hub to another or back to the same one. For me to get to one part of my suburb to another I take one route to a hub and catch another local route. Each local route is usually a milk run that winds about in order to make sure that the distance to bus stops is met.
    • by sir-gold (949031)

      Bus planners use this data to adjust their existing permanent routes, which only change a few times per year.

      This system sounds like it's more dynamic, so when a whole bunch of people are talking about going to sporting event, they can add extra routes for the stadium for that day. Or add more routes to the beach on days when it's hot outside and people are talking about going to the beach.

      It ends up being somewhere between a bus and a taxi.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        If it's too dynamic it will be very frustrating. Without some stability, you would never even know if the bus were viable for your next ride without punching it into your smarthphone and re-thinking the locations and times available. Also it is a 2-way influence - people who rely on the bus fall into a routine that is compatible with the bus schedule, so if that suddenly changes, you have to change when you get up, or go to the gym after work instead of before, etc etc. I don't want to be a downer about
        • by jonbryce (703250)

          I guess this would be like the red mini-buses in Hong Kong which supplement the green mini-buses and big buses that operate to a fixed route and timetable.

    • by ehud42 (314607) on Friday June 06, 2014 @08:13PM (#47184511) Homepage

      this is what bus planners have always done with the best available data, in setting routes.

      And therein lies the rub. Well that at and just general bureaucratic inertia. In our city, route changes tend not to keep up with road construction, destination changes, etc. We have major roads that are full of cars during rush hour, but hardly any buses and empty buses touring residential areas.

      An example of an empty major road is Kenaston Blvd & Bishop Grandin Blvd [winnipegtransit.com] (Note: Zoom in on the map - there's lots of route "close by"). Not a single bus route travels that stretch and yet this road is one of our "inner perimeters" where 42,000 vehicles drive it every day [winnipeg.ca] (PDF warning).

      Another example is our 98 [winnipegtransit.com] and 82 [winnipegtransit.com]. These are "feeder" routes. They collect residents and bring them to major routes where they can go downtown. However, if you live on one side of the river and wish to go to a business or school on the other side of the river, you need to take BOTH buses which only run every 1/2 hour. It would seem to me that the logical thing to do would be to combine them into a single loop. That way you aren't stuck in -30C weather waiting 29 minutes for your transfer because the first bus was running late.

      • by Dthief (1700318)
        But when I get on a bus, i know where its going. These buses may decide my destination is not worthwhile, and take me far from where I expected. Flexible routes are nice and all, but will cause trouble for tons of people.
        • by hawk (1151)

          >But when I get on a bus, i know where its going.
          >These buses may decide my destination is not
          >worthwhile, and take me far from where I expected.

          Actually, that's not it.

          They've figured out that you're *wrong* about where you want to go, and will take you to the *right* place.

          So welcome your new bus overlords . . .

          hawk

    • by MacTO (1161105)

      Clearly you've never dealt with cities that used the design philosophy of suburban collector routes in their downtown core. In these cities, it is quite possible to get from A to B yet have no route going from B to A at certain times of day. A far more common scenario is that you walk for 2 minutes to catch the bus to work, yet for 15 minutes after disembarking the bus on the trip back home. On short trips (i.e. less than 1 hour by bus) it is frequently faster to bike because the planners have no idea wh

  • It sounds like if you don't have a smartphone--or don't use it to check into every damn silly little place you visit--then your transportation needs are going to be underrepresented.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rsborg (111459)

      It sounds like if you don't have a smartphone--or don't use it to check into every damn silly little place you visit--then your transportation needs are going to be underrepresented.

      You jest. Smartphone penetration in the US populace is quite high. Our babies' nanny has an iPhone5S. Nearly every construction worker on every gig at my property in the past 2 years has had a smartphone, even the ones that looked like they couldn't afford one. Many folks in the doctor's office that I go to have one (older folks tend to have tablets).

      Smartphones are way too useful to be niche any longer. YOU may use them to play solitaire or listen to podcasts, but everyday folks use them to shop, text

      • Let's replace your anecdotal evidence with some information gathered by the Pew Research Center:

        Smartphone Owners in 2014:

        By Sex: 61% of men and 57% of women have a smartphone.
        By Education: 44% of high school grad or less, 67% of some college, and 71% of college grads (or better) have a smartphone.
        By Income: 47% of less than $30K/yr, 53% of $30K - $49.9K, 61% of $50K - $74.9K, and 81% of $75K+ have a smartphone.
        By Age: 83% of 18-29, 74% of 30-49, 49% of 50-64, and 19% of 65+ years old people have a sma

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Summary doesn't sound so amazing when you translate "millions of bits" of data to "hundreds of kilobytes"

  • Unusual Routes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jim Sadler (3430529) on Friday June 06, 2014 @10:07PM (#47184941)
    The very reason that many people own cars has to do with unusual routes and unusual hours. For example some bus routes shut down at 6PM. That doesn't seem like a big problem until your job insists that overtime be worked and you don't leave work until 7 PM.. And you can not assume that a taxi will be available either as drivers prefer certain routes and certain passengers. So now you are stranded, perhaps in an industrial area or an area with no sidewalks and you are actually in danger. I have seen times when even in a severe emergency one could not get a cop for 45 minutes. If the public is ever to trust bus services they need to keep running 24/7/365 with very short wait times as well as backup buses in case one stalls or gets a flat tire.
    • Wait, do we suddenly not trust buses now? I wouldn't mind late-night services, but having the same route availability 24/7 would be a pointless waste of money. It should be obvious that far fewer people travel at night.

      If I had a boss, and he suggested that I work overtime hours, and that entailed transportation issues, I would insist on reimbursement for travel expenses. Then I would schedule a daily taxi pickup, and have the number of a couple other alternative services handy just in case. I'm not going t

  • I was wondering why no bus had come past my stop in the last three weeks. Guess I need to send out more tweets in order to get service.

  • If these people have ever watched any TV, they will know that the ultimate algorithms are recursive algorithms. If they used those, they should be in good shape figuring out where people want to go!


  • millions of bits of data

    Woah, we're talking megabits. Unpossible.
  • Seems like a good idea until you realize that the majority of the people currently using the bus service aren't the ones carrying the smartphones or using social media apps.

    This reminds me of the pothole app that allowed people to tell their city where the potholes were and then someone figured out that only the wealthy neighborhoods were getting adequate road maintenance because of the app (and webpage).

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